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A CurtainUp London Review
In the opening scene, Rich and Saul (David Poyner), a photographer, are splitting up and discussing how to divide their joint possessions. The pain at this ending of a relationship is apparent but worse is to come. Rich is to experience inflamed glands on his neck, in a condition known as an AIDs type illness. Saul still loves Rich and will care for him although Rich had left Saul for a relationship with the younger beefcake Chet (Tom Kay).
As Is is a love story in the face of the AIDs epidemic as New York's gay community witness those that are ill and dying. It is the loss of so many that touches the heart and marks out the vulnerability of those who used to frequent the gay bathhouses and bars where sexual encounters were exciting, unplanned and unsafe. The humour of the New Yorker is there and in the face of disaster, there is an ability to laugh.
Rich and Saul are something of a mismatch, perhaps the attraction of opposites? Together Rich seems to be so much taller than Saul and while Rich is dark and handsome and out there, Saul is quieter with a softer disposition. I started by not caring very much for Tom Colley's character Rich, but the power of the play is an emotional trajectory towards tragedy and caring.
We see all of Rich's sexual contacts flooding onto the stage. We encounter the medical staff, two volunteers manning a phone hotline service and the staff at St Vincent's, the hospice where their friend Teddy is dying. In one scene each cast member recalls about the first time they heard about AIDs, who of their friends has it and ends with a roll call of all those they know who have died. The play is top and tailed by the evidence of an Irish woman worker at the hospice (Clare Kissane) whose brash and loud account is hard to take in the tiny Finborough space.
Andrew Keates gets varied performances out of his eight strong ensemble cast who take on many more roles. The set is glum and dark, hospital brown and dominated by a grandiose columned archway, the entrance to St Vincent's. A waiting bench becomes the institutional hospice bed. The men are very 1980s with sideboards and moustaches, many of them would look at home in a Village People video and they are all too young to die.
I shall never forget the punch, as Rich and Saul decide to revive the sexual side of their relationship, when Saul sees Rich's skin lesions for the first time.
The relevance of As Is is that HIV is once more on the rise in the UK with an all time high of gay and bisexual men diagnosed in 2011.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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