Review | The universal and 'deeply moving' production of 'First Time'

The new production by Nathaniel Hall makes an update to the story of acquiring and living with HIV


Words: Stephen M Hornby

The doors from the auditorium burst open.  A stressed actor in a dressing gown shouts at the politely queuing audience, 'I’m not ready” and is promptly dragged back into the theatre by the director. 

Nathaniel has had an Arts Council grant and 12 months to prepare.  All he has to show for it is a messy room and a sparkly pink triangle backdrop.  “Has anyone seen the hoover?” he asks plaintively as we take up our seats.

But, of course, Nathaniel is having us on. He has done his preparation and we are quickly transported back in time, away from this debauched morning after the night before, and on to a park bench over-looking Stockport. 

Nathaniel is waiting to pick-up his cream prom suit. He’s 16. He’s head boy and he’s been giving head to his deputy for some time.  Then Sam arrives, sits next to him on the bench and changes his whole life.

Any one man show depends uniquely upon the skill and relatability of that one man. 

Nathaniel has both in bucket loads.  He connects to the audience with an intriguing mix of vulnerability, presence and charm, part fool, part prophet, part politician. 

He might be spray string vomiting, essaying the rapid changes in the meaning of an HIV diagnosis since the start of the century or speechifying to a vigil at Manchester Pride, but he is always wholly, winsomely present.

Chris Hoyle’s directing keeps a good variation of pace and tone throughout the piece and a moment of humour is never very far away. 

The final sections of the piece are perhaps a little repetitive and a couple of unnecessary soundscapes to monologues risk making them over-wrought or even a tad saccharine, but these are minor points.

First Time has made a timely generational update to the story of acquiring and living with HIV. 

It makes well-judged nods to previous generations and anticipates a world which we could make happen, with the right access to the right medical interventions at the right point, a world without HIV. 

But this is an intensely personal story, and in staying true to that, Hall has created something universal and deeply moving.

Rating: 4*

First Time runs at the Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, until December 1.