The HIV Monologues

On 24th May 1988 the authorities decreed that any local authority in the UK “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homsexuality…or promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” This was Section 28 of the Local Government Act and so a generation of children, myself included, were subjected to yet more homophobia and a complete lack of education in how to live a happy, flourishing and safe LGBTQIA life. On 21st June 2000 Scotland repealed this abysmal amendment and the rest of the UK caught up by 18th November 2003. But we haven’t really caught up because there is still so far to go and that’s where The HIV Monologues come in (a few spoilers ahead).

This was never going to be an easy play to watch and it wasn’t but not because it was terribly acted, far from it, but because it’s about HIV. It’s a seemingly simple story about Alex and Nick who are out on a Tinder date. It’s going really well until Nick says that he is HIV positive. Moments later and Alex gets stuck in a window trying to escape and Nick is pretty pissed off. Denholm Spurr makes a great Alex – insecure, selfish but irritatingly cute. He’s one of those likable unlikable characters, a bit like Fleabag from the hit BBC show, and as the story unfolds we do come to care about him. Meanwhile, Sean Hart portrays Nick’s despair, resolve and power brilliantly as he comes to terms with the new normal of his life. The monologues do occasionally become dialogues and when Spurr and Hart are on stage together the chemistry works (more on that in the next paragraph). I also absolutely loved Irene the Irish nurse played by Charly Flyte, who was treating AIDS in the 1980s. A presumably straight woman, she befriends one of her gay, male patients and takes up the cause. A scene in which she tells a bunch of salivating journalists what shame really is was just fantastic and I felt it a shame her character was only met once as she clearly had a life and story of her own that I wanted to know more about. Then there was Barney played by Jonathan Blake who had me crying before he’d even said anything. Blake (not Barney) was one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK (and he was played by Dominic West in Pride) and his depiction of Barney was spot on as the partner to one of Irene’s patients. Warm, funny and quietly powerful Barney/Blake is someone I’d like to go for a drink with.

For me the most powerful scene was when Nick aPicturend Alex are on stage together, hiding in the toilets of G-A-Y about to have sex. Alex has just finished performing in an important play about HIV funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation (hint, hint, come on Elton, get your wallet out). But neither of them have any condoms. Instead, Alex says he’s got a pill and Nick’s confused because he’s already taken his anti-HIV pill (of which there are many different types that reduce the viral load of HIV and allow the immune system to repair itself, start here to find out more) but Alex is taking PrEP: Pre-exposure prophylaxis, which prevents HIV infection. I’ll repeat that, it prevents HIV infection. And what ensues is a beautifully described moment in which Alex and Nick enjoy having sex together for the first time. Of course, in the world of the play and the real world PrEP is still not accessible on the NHS and people who don’t have access to the medication nor the appropriate education are still needlessly contracting the virus. As I said, even with the repeal of Section 28 we still haven’t caught up.
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The HIV Monologues are on this Thursday & Friday, get your tickets here. Asides being brilliantly acted the monologues are well crafted and poignant pieces of writing by Patrick Cash and director Luke Davies evokes a whole rainbow of emotions from his cast. The stage and lights are also fab. So, no excuse, go, go, go. Be entertained, get educated and then go do what you can: help ACT UP in the fight to get PrEP mainstreamed, support your friends who might be at risk of getting HIV or who have it and educate everyone else, straight or gay, who has missed out on years of vital education. And then one day we’ll all meet at that epic G-A-Y after party funded by Elton John!
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Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest/Easiest Word

Do you struggle with the S Word? Or does it come easy and you find yourself saying sorry almost every other sentence? Yup, it’s my post about the word ‘sorry’ and it’s been a long time coming. So, I’m sorry it’s late…or am I? It’s also going to be more than one post because when I started writing I realised that apologies are quite a big deal. So, I’m sorry for the length…or am I? But seriously, have you noticed how much we say sorry these days? We say sorry for being late, sorry for taking so long to text back, sorry for wanting to pass someone on the street and sorry for flaking. But what actually do we mean when we say sorry and why do we do it so much?

To avoid any confusion I’ll start with some dictionary definitions. Firstly, sorry: “feeling regret or pentinence”. And regret basically means feeling sad or bad about something and pentinence is “the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong.” In other words it’s another word for apology – “a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure.” Boiling it all down it goes a little like this: we’ve let someone down, say we flaked on an event they’d organised, and now we feel bad about it. What normally ensues is an apology but before we move on I just want to focus on this feeling.

Not many people like to feel bad unless, of course, you’re a masochist. But that’s another blog. It’s a visceral feeling of unease that sits somewhere in our body and I think it’s composed of at least one major ingredient: guilt. We’re feeling guilty because we know we’ve let someone down. Our action (or, in the case of flaking, lack of action) has resulted in a sub-optimal state of affairs and may well have upset our friend. We’re feeling the regret and it’s not a very pleasant sensation. However, it’s what happens next, it’s what we choose to do about that feeling that is crucial and defines whether or not, when we say sorry, we actually mean it. Blog number two will take a closer look at the act of apologising and all the different types of sorry-sayers there are out there, y’know, the ones that say sorry waaay too much, the ones that don’t say it enough, the ones that get all defensive and angry, and many more. In the meantime here’s Blue and Elton John struggling with the S word.