First Time, VAULT Festival

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by Bryony Rae Taylor

In a manic pre-show ‘welcome’, Nathaniel Hall greets the audience with recently sniffed white powder falling down his face, dressing gown on, and in a bedroom strewn with the detritus from a recently concluded party. He’s overslept and he’s addressing his post-party headache with a heck of a lot of cocaine. It’s alarming.

‘We’re not in the Vauxhall Tavern anymore are we, Toto?’

In an hour of both brutal and gorgeous honesty, witty repartee and with some moments of weepy feels, Hall delivers a monologue about living with shame as an HIV-positive man. He rebuffs the misinformation that is still a hangover from the fearful time in the 1980s when AIDs was taking many lives and in the West, public service adverts were warning its viewers to not ‘die of ignorance’.

Framing his narrative around his ‘first time’, Hall weaves his coming-out story into the play. He’s an emotional performer. He delivers every word as though it’s just occurred to him, creating this wonderful sense of spontaneity. Despite the frenzied opening, the show is a friendly ramble through a story of personal growth, of learning to shun shame and embrace social action.

Hall is very much the person with the megaphone, now, but he’s nurturing acceptance and it’s refreshing to hear a gentler call to activism. Some activists stand at the back of the crowd, and that’s fine. First Time is an intimate invitation to listen, learn, and perhaps go back out into the world with a little less prejudice.

There’s a slight chaos to the piece that means it has the sense of an ending on several occasions. What feels like a climax comes and goes. But it is so funny. And it’s crucial: a vital perspective on living as a HIV positive person. Also, to be honest, ANY show that features the songs of Will Young has my full attention, love, and support.

First Time runs through 2 February.

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