The HIV Monologues, Ace Hotel

By guest critic Jo Trainor

Diagnosis, dread, death, devotion, Patrick Cash has written five interlocking, thoughtful monologues that explore HIV from the most human perspective.

Alex isn’t wearing his power bottom singlet, but his James Dean swagger and Nick’s beautiful eyes are the making of a dream Tinder date. Until Nick reveals he’s HIV positive. Alex legs it, but his audition for Barney the next day forces him to re-evaluate his behaviour.

Alex has embarrassingly little knowledge of HIV. He’s concerned he could catch it from kissing, or holding hands with Nick, and attempts to flee from their date out of a tight bathroom window. When a fifth of the play is set in the 1980s, Alex’s opinion in 2016 seems outdated in comparison. This reviewer definitely agrees that the education system neglects to properly inform us about HIV, but surely you’d have to be living under a rock to think you can pick it up like it’s chicken pox. It begs the question of how any millennial could possibly still think that way, and makes the character near unbelievable for the audience. That’s certainly not to say that people with HIV don’t face extreme negative reactions, just that coming from Alex it feels untruthful. Luckily the script and performances warm up as the play goes along.

Jonathan Blake’s performance as playwright Barney is the highlight of the piece. The whole script is geared towards his entrance, leaving trails of mini cupcakes and pink orchids, and Blake doesn’t disappoint. In such a hectic and fast-paced story Barney brings such a wave of calm to the stage, even when he’s helping a friend give birth in a graveyard. You can also hear his serene presence when other characters speak of or as him. Blake was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV, and was the basis for Dominic West’s character in the film Pride.

There are a few directorial decisions that could do with some tweaking, however. Each character’s story includes interactions with other people; some of the actors put on accents and voices to play an Irish nurse or Elton John, and others don’t. Either option would work, but the mix is jarring to watch. It is also an odd to choice to cast someone, although an emotive actress, who can’t really do a convincing Irish accent to play Irene the nurse from Dublin.

The HIV Monologues gives a platform for an important conversation, but the script and direction just misses the mark.

The HIV Monologues run through 19 February.

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