When a new piece of work describes itself as “a new play about bodies, intimacy and HIV” one’s mind automatically assumes that the presentation is going to be short on jokes and high on moralising. However, as is often the case with trying to anticipate what a playwright is planning, Outbox Theatre’s latest presentation Affection turned out to be completely different to the idea I had in my head as I entered The Glory, Hoxton.
As is so often the case with a production like this, Affection is difficult to talk about without giving too much away and this is definitely a play that needs to be experienced. Based on testimony from real life people prepared to share their, often highly personal stories, Writer Jodie Gray has put together a series of scenes involving men and women and HIV. Some are shocking whilst others, such as the ‘eulogy’ are heartbreaking on surprisingly more levels than you would initially think. There was humour as well – particularly in the scene involving the Twink and the Daddy Type. I can’t say I had a favourite scene as each one had a story to tell in its own right. There was no straightforward narrative – Affection isn’t that kind of production – but the whole piece flowed well together though, if I’m 100% honest I’m not sure I fully understood all the various transition scenes – but I’m putting that down to my old age. What was really interesting was the scene where one of the cast was coming up with excuses why they were not aware of HIV, its prevention and effects, as the words used were horribly similar to those I recently heard from a younger friend.
The company – Rebecca Crankshaw, Aiden Crawford, Gavin Duff, Josh Enright, Barry Fitzgerald, Conor Gormally, Elijah W Harris and Jack McMahon – took on a variety of roles in the various scenarios being presented and performed them very well. One really huge word of praise for the company from me here. It was fantastic, for once, to see a play where the majority of the cast are meant to be gay men and where every type of man was involved. A lot of gay theatre, particularly if there is a possibility of shirts coming off, will pick either Twink or Muscle Mary types to represent the world of gay men. This is of course not the reality of life where gay men and women – rather like every other type of men and women – come in all colours shapes and sizes and it was great to see that Outbox Theatre had taken this into account when casting. Quick mention for Iain Syme’s wonderful video design which not only added to the performance but, along with Director Ben Burratta’s use of off-stage voices, made the performance space feel so much bigger than it was.
At just over an hour Affection was a nice length, though I personally would have liked a few more scenes as I’m sure they must have had lots more source material that could have gone into it. However, I have to admit that Affection, whilst tackling a very difficult subject that is a relevant today as it was during the worst of the AIDS crises in the 1980s. In fact, at a time when the NHS is still musing on support PrEP – much to the consternation of some of our more extreme right wing press – Affection is a timely reminder of the consequences of stupidity and risk-taking by everyone irrespective of sexual orientation. A very worthy and, although it feels like the wrong word for this, enjoyable production that works really well to raise awareness without preaching.
Review by Terry Eastham
Outbox Theatre teams up with The Glory to present affection; a brand-new devised show about bodies, intimacy and HIV.
This is 2016: More gay men than ever are contracting HIV, confusion surrounds what it is to be positive and undetectable, the government are denying medicine to the most vulnerable and at-risk.
Based on real-life stories, affection is not a victim piece. It is raw, funny and honest. Because it’s about time that we had another conversation about HIV.
Affection is based on real life interviews with people, from those recently diagnosed with HIV to those who were diagnosed at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. A series of naturalistic scenes depict characters negotiating their lives, their jobs and their relationships with friends and lovers. Through this, the LGBT cast will explore themes of stigma, shame, triumph, community and hope through scenes weaved together using movement and film. affection is about real life and real people living with HIV. It’s about stories full of courage, emotion and humour. affection comes from extensive work with leading organisation Positive East to create a true picture of what it means to live with HIV and thus reflects the real life lows and highs that come with overcoming adversity.
Date: 13th – 24th September 2016
Venue: The Glory, 281 Kingsland Road, London E5 8AS
Date: 30th September, 1 October
Venue: Stan’s Café, @A. E. Harris, 110 Northwood Street, Birmingham, B3 1SZ
Director: Ben Buratta
Writer: Jodi Gray
Designer: Harry Whitham