Review: First Time (Refract Festival 2019)

A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time (from Dibby Theatre) is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall and returned to Sale Waterside Centre as part of Refract Festival.

Diagnosed just two weeks after his 17th birthday and only months after coming out as gay to his family, Nathaniel kept his HIV status from almost all for over 14 years.

In late 2017, Nathaniel ‘came out again’, as it were, and is now advocating for better contemporary representation of HIV in popular culture. The show is a vehicle to break down HIV stigma and contribute to the UNAIDS aim of ending HIV within a generation.

With humour, honesty, a great deal of both heart and heartbreak, Nathaniel Hall stood (and danced – nice Ketchup song moves) before us and told us his story.

Like all the best Fringe theatre, the set was simple, tube lighting in the form of a colour changing triangle (my favourite being blue to depict Stockport – that god forsaken pyramid!).

Accompanied by beats and bantz (yes I did that – I just needed a bit of alliteration) we were in his flat, on that bench where he met his first, at his prom, on his holiday when he first fell ill, in his doctor’s waiting room, in the clinic when he got his diagnosis…

The diagnosis that he wasn’t to share with his parents for another 14 years.

Like everyone else who was around at the time (I was very young though, ok?) the AIDS advert was terrifying in itself without me really understanding the substance behind it.

AIDS advert – 1986

We were asked not to die of ignorance – whilst things have improved medically and concerning awareness there is still ignorance surround HIV and AIDS to this day.

  • Whilst not in the realms of Dot Cotton in Eastenders circa 1987 not wanting to wash Colin’s smalls in the launderette because a) he’s gay b) he must have full blown AIDS c) she’ll ‘catch it’ through touching his pants – yes I’m currently OBSESSED with classic Eastenders on Gold – there’s still lots for us all to learn.
  • And so, thank god (or who/whatever) we have people like Nathaniel who having contracted HIV at 16 has dealt/is dealing with his diagnosis in such a selfless, giving (funny and entertaining – no really, First Time is a one-man show of two halves, as it were) way.

    An immersive experience, we took part in an HIV quiz – no we did!

    Speaking of first times, I had one shouting

    I love orgies

    in Sale.

    Like the candlelit vigil in Sackville Gardens at each Manchester Pride, we were shown images of those who had lost their fight whilst we held candles of our own.

    Getting to me good and hard was the picture Nathaniel showed to us of himself in his cream suit at his High School Prom. You see he was waiting to pick up that suit when he met his first time encounter ‘Sam’ on a bench in Stockport in 2003.

    It may be me applying the knowledge of what was to come when I saw that picture (and my failing eyesight) but I saw the little boy at the end of the film Big as he walks down the road in his too big Tom Hanks suit.

    I’m sure Nathaniel’s cream suit fitted perfectly and he looked amazing. You get where I’m coming from.

    I have a copy of the letter in my bag that Nathaniel wrote to his parents and eventually even gave them (not before it was anonymously read to crowds at one candlelit vigil by an actor).

    I’m not crying you’re crying.

    Yes Nathaniel is HIV+, contracting this from his first time (he doesn’t blame ‘Sam’ by the way). But do you know what? He’s a bloody good actor, writer and performer – funny, witty, creative and giving.

    Heading to Edinburgh Fringe, you can go see the show there (thanks to those who contributed to the Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe).

    If First Time ever returns to Sale Waterside Centre for a third time – go see it there.

    Find out what else is on at the brilliant Refract Festival here…Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer and of course here…Refract 19


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