Review: 'Positive', hilarious and heartbreaking HIV comedy

In theory, a comedy about HIV shouldn’t work, surely? But Shaun Kitchener’s Positive is one of the most compelling productions I’ve seen in a long time. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, it’s a profound and important piece of theatre with not one weak performance amongst the eight-strong cast. Positive follows the life of Benji (Timothy George) and his flatmate Nikki (Nathalie Barclay), both of whom have been living with HIV for the past year. While Nikki has found love with boyfriend Greg (Paul Heelis), Benji has ended up in a deep depression, not allowing himself to socialise and only leaving the flat for work. His life seems to solely revolve around his HIV status… and Britney Spears. 10382356_721660927875770_7952243099295847945_o-683x1024 The pop-princess is referenced throughout the play and Benji quite literally lives his life under the mantra “if Britney can get through 2007, then I can get through today.” The comedy runs strong, with a painfully hilarious first date scene, where Kitchener takes to the stage himself as love interest Matt. It’s within these moments that the script becomes razor sharp: Shaun Kitchener has impeccable comedic timing, wonderfully contrasted by Timothy George’s portrayal of Benji, fearful of rejection and judgement but one heck of a catch. Whilst the laughs are constant, the more intimate, emotionally-charged scenes are just as relentless - one standout sees Benji’s mother Margo (Sally George) crash his date with Matt to confront him about his HIV status. It's uncomfortably honest, raw and heartbreaking as she's reluctant to even touch her son. The actors are mother and son both on and off-stage, making it a doubly powerful moment. Nathalie Barclay (Nikki) and Ryan J Brown (Olly) both showcased great comedic talent and Sally George is a revelation as the mother, a character full of conflict. She drew some of the biggest laughs of the night, but also highlighted some of the most ignorant views in society regarding HIV. 1921030_715569075151622_1520857386693833108_o-1024x733 Positive is a play with a same-sex couple at its heart, set to a soundtrack of Britney Spears’ greatest hits and with references to dating apps, safe sex and gay nightlife - but it’s also a whirlwind of a production that anybody, gay or straight, can enjoy. I was enthralled by a couple of elderly straight couples in the audience who laughed the loudest and cried the most. These are issues that affect anyone from any gender, race or sexuality and for that reason, it’s a play that can (and will) be enjoyed by absolutely everyone. 5 STARS Catch Positive at Park Theatre before its run ends on August 1. Read our interview with playwright Shaun Kitchener. Words by JON HORNBUCKLE