Patrick Cash has made a rather significant splash in the theatre world in the last few years with his unique, hard hitting and humorous plays covering contemporary LGBTQ+ issues. His current show The HIV Monologues fits in this same vein, exploring the lives of four interweaving characters and their relationship with HIV spanning the time and changing attitudes from 30 years ago to the present day.
The play centres around with the character of Alex (Denholm Spurr), a young man quickly falling for someone with HIV, it’s an issue of great confusion and conflict for him, as he works out his issues for better or for worse. Alex is a great medium for an audience to follow on this journey with, he has a sense of likeability and fun that makes him instantly appealing, even when he does actions that are deplorable. It steals away from simple ‘good vs bad guys’ territory and speaks in tones of complexity of real people. Alex has an awkwardness and humour to his character that makes him really relatable, and the on stage chemistry between Alex and Nick (Kane Surry) felt electric.
Cash manages to steer through the topics raised without treading over old, cliched grounded. In the age of Prep and hook-up apps, HIV has simultaneously become the scary boogeyman in the corner and an issue of old, one that some LGBTQ+ youth do not feel connected to, and Cash does a great job of modernising the issues around this disease.
Some performances are stronger than others however, and there was a sense of tension missing that it was felt the play was heading towards, but never quite reached. Not every show needs shock value of course, but this still felt as though it was missing a key dramatic build. At times felt like it was on the cusp of breaking through into some real, genuine emotion but didn’t quite make it.
The addition of Jonathan Blake, the pioneering HIV activist, in the role of Barney adds a sense of further authenticity to the piece, and the humour throughout is well placed and genuine. The play’s ability to bring sexuality back into HIV is one not often seen on the stage. So regularly it is presented with a ‘no sex, forever doomed’ attitude which isn’t very fitting living with the disease today. The HIV Monologues stays away from this, and presents sexuality with HIV in a new, modern and sympathetic light.
The HIV Monologues is being performed at the Ace Hotel, London until the 19th of February.