Rowena Dyson|21.05.2014|Feature
A new play in London shines a light on what life is like for a young person living with HIV

As I sat beneath the railway arches of London’s Waterloo East Theatre, I wondered to myself, will Positive really meet the expectations of its title?

I was preparing myself for a typically distressing tale of stigma and discrimination that, unfortunately, tends to go hand in hand with the subject of HIV. But I was heartened by the fact that this play, written and performed by Shaun Kitchener, featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, the world’s largest arts festival.

Positive tells the story of Benji (Timothy George), a normal, young guy living in the UK who is trying to come to terms with his positive HIV status. We join Benji at the health clinic where he receives ‘leaflets of doom’ following his positive diagnosis.

As the story unfolds, the audience witness Benji’s journey as he tries to rebuild his life after his diagnosis. The challenges he faces are many—from the practicalities of living with HIV (ie, taking his HIV drugs every day) to tackling the hostility he faces when others discover his HIV status.

Despite these seemingly depressing topics, the play is far from dark, with witty quips and amusing exchanges allowing the play to develop into something plausible.

Far from making light of the serious issues like safe sex and condom use, the importance of protection is emphasised when a potential sexual partner Olly (Ryan J Brown) learns of Benji’s positive status. After learning of Benji’s HIV status, Olly categorically, and rather creatively, states that there was no way he would stick his ‘perfectly healthy carrot in the hummus of death’. Such reactions highlight the ignorance that is still prevalent among young people in the UK with respect to HIV.

Reassuringly, other ‘positive’ attitudes towards HIV are represented through both Benji’s companion and confidante Nikki (Nathalie Barclay) and the lovable character Matt (Shaun Kitchener). I found it comforting to watch the relationship develop between Benji and Matt who show mutual determination to overcome the difficulties associated with HIV and lead an active, normal life. Through these relationships, the humour of the play is at its best.

Although people living with HIV can have long and healthy lives with the right drugs, Positive highlights that the disease can be mentally and emotionally demanding, not only for those living with it, but also for friends and family.

Positive will be running at the Waterloo East Theatre until June 1, 2014.

Image credit: Tom Crook, Bobbin Productions

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