For the last two years, The Glory has been a much celebrated watering hole for the LGBTQ+ community, mixing a cocktail of creativity, alternative entertainment and urbane glamour for the club-goers of East London. This September, Outbox Theatre’s affection takes over the cavernous basement space to bring the issue of HIV in the gay community to the fore. Blending physical theatre, surrealism and naturalistic dialogue, it addresses and critiques the often overlooked facets of HIV including family, relationships and the lack of accessible information on the illness.
Two men stand facing one another as the audience files in to the intimate space. A gentle, persistent buzzing is heard as five other men and one woman enter the space. Against the wall, the cast shudder, twitch and shuffle under the scrutiny of the audience. Over the course of an hour we are taken through a series of tableaux that demonstrates the varied experience of a HIV diagnosis in the present day. We see a man disclosing his status to a potential suitor, a post-coital conversation that quickly turns into a belligerent argument and a heartfelt eulogy that is edited and re-edited by a despondent relative.
The variety of angles that affection displays surrounding one of the most sensitive issues embedded in the LGBTQ+ community makes this an incredibly successful and innovative piece. Jodi Gray’s script is jarring, conflicted and unapologetic – beautifully taking the overarching uncertainty of a HIV diagnosis and moulding it into flowing poetry and hard-hitting scenes. One of her most successful scenes is of a young man explaining to his peers that he did not have access to the facts of HIV and now struggles to effectively explain the illness to others. Ben Buratta’s clockwork direction is wonderfully complimented by Coral Messam whose movement direction combines careful and measured fluidity with staccato sporadic motions together creating a sense of ambiguity and volatility.
affection’s predominant themes of inaccessible information and social stigma are magnified chiefly by Rebecca Crankshaw. A pleasure to watch, she unequivocally commands the space, her clear, firm vocal tone cleverly used to hammer home the message “This is a protest”, no doubt a cry of outrage in response to the increasing withdrawal of funding for HIV support services. Barry Fitzgerald provides some brief respite from the otherwise sombre mood in a few short scenes interacting with the audience. His flamboyant gestures and comic timing keep the piece from becoming too morose.
Dominic Kennedy’s continual soundtrack is clinical, unnerving and strangely hypnotic and provides the perfect undertone for the piece while the distinct lack of costume and set allows for Iain Syme’s series of video close-ups of human skin to present us with the combined motifs of sensuality and suffering.
A theatrical exploration of HIV in the LGBTQ+ community is by no means a new idea. However, where affection breaks away from other previous pieces is with its wider focus. Rather than focusing on one person’s journey, this piece allows us brief but highly detailed insight into the myriad experiences taken from various real life stories. This is a show that deserves as wide an audience as possible.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
AFFECTION plays at The Glory until 24 September 2016