is a remarkably uplifting and honest new play about the light and shade in the lives of people affected by HIV in modern day Britain. The play had a successful run at Waterloo East Theatre last year – earning a 4-star review from Attitude
. Now, it’s set to play for three weeks in July at the Park Theatre in London’s Finsbury Park.
As the cast and crew undergo final rehearsals, Attitude
caught up with the playwright Shaun Kitchener (below, left), who also has a part in the show, to find out more about it.
Most people would struggle to find the humour in a subject like HIV, but that’s what you’ve done in Positive. How did you manage that?
It just comes naturally to me, I think - even in the toughest of times, I know I'm not the only person who uses humour to power through. Also HIV is so often portrayed on-stage with death and despair, and although there are many amazing plays that do reflect a certain time-period, that's just not what it's like in 2015. Positive
isn't a slapstick farce that makes light of anything, but ultimately it's a play about people, not a play about illness, so I have definitely tried to add a warm and hopefully funny element to it.
You’ve invited UKIP leader and ‘HIV commentator’ Nigel Farage along to see the show. What would happen if he shows up?
Christ, can you imagine? I got a reply from the UKIP head office a couple of months ago saying the invite had been passed on to the relevant office, so we shall see. I'm not holding my breath. I just can't wrap my head around him, as a person. I'm fascinated to know what he'd say if he came.
As well as writing Positive, you play a supporting part in it. Does that mean you know your lines better than anyone else?
Nope! I really should. Actually it's really hard for me not to paraphrase or change bits on-the-spot, thinking I can get away with it because it's my script in the first place. I'm trying to be really strict with myself. I'm working with such incredible actors, it's making me want to raise my own game and join them on their level.
What has the reaction been like to the play, from people with HIV?
As far as I know, unanimously supportive, which is the most important thing for me. My whole aim was to present an honest portrayal, so to be told that we managed it was really great. Plus, I know of at least two audience members who plucked up the courage to tell their mates about their own HIV+ status after seeing it, which is amazing. I think one guy actually came out as positive during the interval!
Do you think more needs to be done to destigmatise HIV and the people it affects?
100%. It was my own ignorance that got me going with this play in the first place. It's great seeing so many posters and stuff up on the tube telling people to get tested, but it's still not something I think many people do. HIV is manageable and it is a million miles away from the death sentence it was a few decades ago, but you do need to actually know your status. That's pretty vital. Also, I read somewhere that stigma, depression and fear of judgement are the hardest things for HIV+ people to overcome nowadays, which really slapped me round the face. It just needs to be spoken about more, I think. Education is key.
Positive runs July 9 to August 1 at the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park, London N4.
Tickets available: https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/positive
Facebook: West Avenue Theatre Company