As a nation, we have moved on a long way from the original AIDS campaign launched by then Health Secretary Norman Fowler in February 1986. The doom laden adverts put the fear of God into a lot of people at the time, a fact that is mentioned in Paul Emelion Daly’s play “Rise Like a Phoenix” at the Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall.
Highly successful estate agent Hector (Reed Stokes) is throwing a soiree for some friends at his flat. He is very excited about the event, in fact so excited that he has decided to tick one more item off his bucket list as a surprise for everyone. Helping him set up is Gucci (Dimitrios Raptidis) an exuberant Colombian masseur. Tonight is going to be big for Hector since, as well as his musical theatre addict best friend Pippin (Conleth Kane), he has invited ex-fiance Alan (Lewis Rae) and his new boyfriend, Eddie (Jonny Dickens). An interesting social experiment as, not only are all five men gay, they are also HIV positive and are dealing with the status in their respective ways. For Hector and Pippin, the main problems revolve around relationships and when should you tell a potential partner about your status? Pippin sums it up perfectly when he says ‘It’s like coming out all over again’. In Hector’s case, he not only has his HIV to deal with, he is also meeting his ex’s new partner for the first time, and is ready, claws out, to really go for him. Unfortunately, it turns out Eddie is a really likeable guy, so Hector has to reserve his bitchiness for Alan – and he does unleash the inner demon quite a bit – all adding to the awkward atmosphere in the maisonette. Pippin, uses this moment to make an announcement – one that has a profound effect on everyone there – and this leads to deep routed conversations with things that should remain secret coming out in the open
“Rise Like a Phoenix” is having its world premiere at Above the Stag, and the writer tackles a difficult subject extremely well, mixing humour with hard hitting drama as the five friends go through the story. Director Tim McArthur, had put together a great show – the living room set, by Designer Zoe Hurwitz, is just right, though I’m not sure there were enough pictures of Marilyn Monroe – with a very talented cast and an extremely well-crafted script. Three of the characters have really fantastic and moving monologues with the audience, explaining their thoughts and feelings about themselves, their friends and their status as members of a very special club.
All five were very different from each other in every respect. Gucci was amazingly endearing, with his broken English and wonderfully flirtatious manner – plus that boy can really wear gold hot-pants. Hector is the complete diva who wants to have the party run perfectly – but only under his own rules. Eddie, is the strong, silent type – though he really opens up during the ‘secret sharing’ when we find out so much about his complicated back-story. Alan, I’m afraid I never warmed to as a character. He struck me as the most selfish out of the five – even worse than Hector – and considering what comes out about him and his actions during the course of the show, the one thing he really proved to me was that once more ‘sorry seemed to be the hardest word’ His one redeeming characteristic was the OCD. I was so pleased that he was hoovering the floor when we came back from the bar for the start of the second act. All four actors really brought their respective character to life and it is testament to Lewis Rae’s acting ability that I didn’t like Alan so much.
This brings us to Pippin – by far my favourite. A complex character, Pippin, for me, was probably the one I most identified with. His addiction to musicals as a way of distracting himself from the negative elements of his life, really resonated with me – though I have only seen Wicked six times so need to up my act a bit. Conleth Kane plays the part to perfection, making Pippin a very real person for me. His endearing habit of using musical theatre quotes in everyday speech was wonderful – getting lots of laughter from those (like me) who recognised them, and even wanted to add the next line.
So, to sum up “Rise Like a Phoenix “ is a lovely play that covers HIV in an entertaining way that challenges stereotypes and leaves at least this member of the audience wondering how I would react if told I had become a member of the ‘Club’.
Review by Terry Eastham
Rise Like a Phoenix
By Paul Emelion Daly
Management: Peter Bull for Above the Stag Theatre Company
Jonny Dickens, Conleth Kane, Lewis Rae, Dimitrios Raptidis, Reed Stokes
Director: Tim McArthur
Design: Zoe Hurwitz (also costumes)
Sound: Jason Kirk
Lighting: Jack Weir
RISE LIKE A PHOENIX
by Paul Emelion Daly
directed by Tim McArthur
designed by Zoe Hurwitz
8th April – 3rd May 2015
“It’s like coming out all over again”
There are more appropriate moments to disclose your HIV status to a new lover than during the interval of Wicked… That’s just one of the unexpected discoveries made by five newly-positive friends in this exuberant, excoriating new comedy about moving on, moving out, and moving on up.
Sunday 26th April 2015