As Is – Trafalgar Studios

imageAs you enter the intimate setting of the Trafalgar Studios, the cast members are seated in a line, in a stark, clinical environment. Sound snippets of news reports speak solemnly of a disease largely affecting the gay community in eighties America. As the actors sit and listen, you can’t help but make comparisons to a line of people waiting on death row.

As Is was written by William Hoffman in 1985, when the AIDS crisis was not something you merely heard about in the news but it affected friends, partners, lovers and the coffee shop guy. Labelled as the first AIDS play, it was considered a revolutionary production and 30 years on it still feels just as relevant and poignant.

This is something director Andrew Keates knows all to well, he is an active campaigner and ambassador for Terrence Higgins Trust urging the seriousness of this disease to be recognised without stigma or prejudice. He guides the production with acute sensitivity and warmth, that leaves you laughing one moment and crying the next.

It begins with Rich (Steven Webb) – a writer and runner – and ex-partner Saul (David Poynor) dividing up their household items after a break up, but material possessions become irrelevant as Rich begins to show signs of contracting AIDs. In a wonderful scene of chaos and confusion we see the effects of the news on all who surround Rich. Overlapping dialogue, flashing lights, heated words all whir up into the overwhelming isolation Rich feels.

After Rich’s hot young beau Chet (Giles Cooper) leaves him, Saul is the foundation in his world full of fear, he is eager to help and support and provide the ‘routine to fall back on’ when things fall apart. He accepts Rich for who he is and takes him ‘as is’.

When Hoffman wrote As Is, he himself had suffered heart breaking loss of friends and quite easily could have written a sombre play full of tragedy and pain but instead he faces his worst fears and refreshingly injects wonderful humour that is superbly brought in the form of the whisky-swilling Irish hospice worker, played by Jane Lowe ‘we tell a lot of jokes in my line of work.’

This ensemble cast are really excellent, their onstage chemistry is something to behold and project this production into something really special. At one point Russell Morton and Dino Fletcher take on the roles of telephone helpline guys and interact with the audience with sassy wit and bitchy tones to great cackles of laughter.

With a serious subject the humour makes this play evermore poignant, it brings a humanity and endearing quality that lingers long after the production. It may only be 80 minutes but boy it packs a punch.

Reviewed by Becky Usher

Photo: Scott Rylander

As Is runs until 1st August at Trafalgar Studios 2.