Written by Nathaniel Hall
Directed by Chris Hoyle
It is 100 years since the end of WW1 from which so many young men never came home or were permanently altered or scarred from their war experiences. A lost generation still mourned today. It is 70 years since the introduction of our beloved NHS which has saved or prolonged so many lives and continues to do so today. It is 30 years today since the very first World AIDS day dedicated to raising awareness around HIV and AIDS and commemorating those who have died from an AIDS related illness. It is one week since I saw The Inheritance Parts 1 and 2 which poignantly honours that whole generation of mentors, friends, family and lovers who died from Aids related illnesses. A lost generation still mourned today.
Last night I saw Nathaniel Hall’s one man show First Time, which tells his story of contracting HIV at barely 17 from his first sexual relationship. A boy teetering on the brink of Adulthood he had a positive first gay relationship but barely months later had a shocking diagnosis that changed his life and must have seemed for him like the party was well and truly over before it ever had a chance to properly begin.
I don’t want to use the term brave to describe this performance but it is difficult not to. This is work that is searingly honest, and while it may feel liberating for the writer/performer to now be able to tell his story, it also makes him incredibly vulnerable. It exposes him as he explores his shock, shame and denial on his slow journey towards accepting his situation and finding his own path to healing. This is a celebration of the human capacity to survive and find hope in the darkest places.
Working with dramaturg and Director Chris Hoyle, Hall has developed his work into a delicately pitched performance that can move from gallows humour and raw despair into whimsical charm and impish wit. Throughout his performance Hall exudes grace and charm, interacting with the audience with a natural warmth. Even at its darkest moments it feels like Hall is always mindful of his potential audience and ensures the performance never becomes maudlin or slips into being self- pitying.
The staging is effective in the small intimate space, fluidly allowing for scenes on park benches, hospitals appointments, his bedroom or at the school prom. The lighting and sound capture the essence of magical moments such as the slow dance under the mirror ball with an audience member which so neatly encapsulates a life that would never be. Squirty string effectively conjures up the experience of projectile vomiting during illness, while the sinister ticking clock and disembodied fragments of voice-over chillingly convey the puncturing of Hall’s whole world on initial diagnosis.
First Time is also a homage to the NHS and to the wonderful work of The George Trust which has worked so tirelessly to provide support to those living with HIV or with Aids. It is evident how vital this support has been to allow Nathaniel Hall to find his own path to holding no blame and no shame. The scene in which Manchester rain pours down as Hall stands under an illuminated umbrella with the audience all quietly holding tea lights in remembrance of a lost generation is a masterstroke of quiet reflection and genuine shared emotion. Sitting in that theatre last night watching First Time reminded me of the first time I worked the telephone counselling line at Manchester Aidsline over 30 years ago. It was a full house last night, but I can’t help feeling it was also filled many times over by the spirits of all those young men no longer here, who would have also been loudly and proudly applauding Nathaniel.
Waterside Arts 29th Nov – 1st Dec
Written by Chris Hoyle
Directed by Simon Naylor
A Dibby Theatre production
Part of Queer Contact 2018
From start to finish The Newspaper Boy is a real joy to watch. Writer Chris Hoyle has such a natural ear for dialogue and a genuine affection for his characters ensuring they are all warm, earthy and colourful. The look and feel of this production is absolutely 1992 from the iconic television ads to the music of New Order and the clothes by John Richmond and Comme des Garçons. This is a real labour of love and perfectly evokes the joy and the anguish of coming out in the Nineties.
The cast do a great job as an ensemble. Christian is on a high speed trajectory from Moston to Didsbury via the nation’s tv screens and Daniel Maley is great as the naive, awkward boy who may be growing up too fast but is having a brilliant time until the newspapers break the scandal. He has the super confident soap veteran Mandy as his ballsy guide to drugs, clubs and fashion. Hollie-Jay Bowes is totally believable as the sweet ingenue/spoilt brat/faghag who just wants to get wankered and not have another cute guy love her like a fucking sister!! The fifteen year old Christian falls in love with the older boy Max who Sam Retford embodies with charm and genuine honour and sweetness.
Director Simon Naylor directs the sex scenes with genuine tenderness . This is a coming of age in a really special and joyful way that is later brutalized and cheapened by an ignorant media obsessed with the moral high ground and the desire to sell newspapers. When Christian says I’m proud of us it is said with a naivety about the personal, social and possible legal repercussions. Regardless of this Chris Hoyle has written young love in a joyous way that anyone could be proud off.
The older cast members bring additional depth to this story and of course were young people in the Nineties so can draw on their experiences. Eve Steele gives a chilly television executive in Burberry and heels but blisters with her genius take on a Manc drug dealer on the club scene. Samantha Siddall as Christian’s Mum is perfectly cast as the proud parent basking in the glory of a famous child while still worrying for his well-being. Karen Henthorn is just brilliant as the feisty, chain smoking Gran who adores Christian. Her performance shifts from impish to red eyed and broken, with the stuffing knocked out of her as the scandal unfolds.
The staging works really well and built over several levels allows for creative space to move the action on stage across a range of settings. The family home in Moston to soap star Mandy’s place in Didsbury via Flesh night at The Haçienda and the Granada studio offices and the set for famous soap Mancroft Walk. The energy ramps up a gear as a throng of tv crew thrust through the audience to film another scene on set. The audience are watching this unfold on stage while overhead monitors play out the filmed scene. A large tv screen above Christian’s bed shows scenes from the soap as the family watch Christian and Mandy on scene as the young lovers. Interspersed with iconic Nineties ads for Gold Blend and Milky Way the feeling of slipping back 25 years becomes stronger and stronger. It is a clever and impressive use of this small, bustling theatre. 53Two is quickly becoming a hugely exciting space to see theatre in Manchester.
Based on some of Hoyle’s personal experience as a child actor on Coronation Street, this play highlights the hypocrisy of television programming that storylines teenage pregnancy by a teacher but baulks at teenage gay sex with another young man. Staged as part of Queer Contact 2018 this is a funny and poignant take on an important subject.
Images by Richard Kelly
At 53Two until Saturday 24th February