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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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    Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe

    Manchester theatre company, Dibby Theatre, is raising funds to help take their hit show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe.

    A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall.

    Credit: Lee Baxter

    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.

    Nathaniel says,

    HIV healthcare and prevention has changed, but people’s attitudes to the disease often lag behind fear and stigma are very much alive and well. We now know people with HIV who are on effective medication CANNOT transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

    And you can even take medication after you think you’ve been put at risk, or even pre-emptively to protect yourself and partners. This news, along with the condom and ‘get tested’ messages are the tools we can all now use to help stop HIV for good.

    First Time premiered to critical acclaim last World AIDS Day at Waterside Arts in Sale and will preview there again at Refract Festival on 25 July before heading to Edinburgh Fringe.

    Now Nathaniel wants to take his message even further, and all the way to Edinburgh Fringe.

    Therefore, Dibby Theatre have launched their crowd funding campaign, and need to raise £6000, to help their hit-show become an even greater success in Scotland.

    The crowd-funder is supported by former Ceremonial Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, who was the first openly gay Mayor to hold office in the U.K. urging Mancunians to support the show by donating,

    Manchester has a proud history of HIV activism. One of the country’s largest and oldest HIV support charities, George House Trust, was started as Manchester AIDS Line by Mancunians in 1985, and we’re now a ‘HIV Fast Track City’ and have committed to work in partnership across the city region with the goal of ending all new transmissions by 2030.

    Chris Hoyle, Artistic Director of Dibby Theatre, adds:

    Ending HIV is everyone’s responsibility and we’re proud to be spreadheading the fight against the disease with First Time, and proud to be showcasing to the world that Manchester is a city that works together to get things done.

    The crowd funding campaign is live until 24 June 2019 and you can donate by visiting:

    https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/first-time-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-festival-2019

    For more information on U=U, PrEP and how to get tested for HIV visit: www.gmpash.org.uk

    First Time at Refract Festival, Waterside Arts, Sale – 25 July – https://www.creativetourist.com/event/first-time-at-waterside/

    First Time at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cairns Lecture Theatre – from 31 July – https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/1297899-first-time/