How do we talk about HIV and AIDS?
In so many ways, the progress made in the past forty years has been astounding. The medication now available means that for people in this country HIV is a far cry from death sentence it once was. We’re all a lot more educated, empowered and compassionate.
But we’re still a long way off. And not just cure-wise, because the simple fact is that we don’t talk about HIV. Not really.
The Terrence Higgins Trust estimates that there are over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Of these, 13% are currently undiagnosed. Early diagnosis means more effective treatment and a healthier, longer life overall. Many people go untested and untreated because of –
Well, because of a number of reasons. A lack of awareness, facilities or support. A continued taboo and stigma around the whole issue. But mostly I think, because we just don’t talk about it.
Even for those who have been diagnosed, this can be a pretty hefty cross to bear.
It’s a chronic illness. You take medicine every day. And yes, chances are you’ll have a pretty normal life in most other regards. So why should it be any different to, say, diabetes, which you can happily chat to your GP or Nan or about?
It’s time to generate an open discussion about HIV and AIDS. And I think the theatre – and yes, this is the point in my review where I mention the show I’m actually reviewing – can play a powerful part in this discussion.
Tom Marshman’s show isn’t a lecture or a lesson. In lots of ways it isn’t even really a show about HIV/AIDS. And that’s what makes it so ideal as an avenue for dialogue and a tool for social change.
Marshman tells stories. Real life stories from a mishmash of people who were part of the 80’s scene in Kings Cross. The revolutionary world of hedonism and sexuality. A melting pot of politics and poppers where practically anything went.
The narratives are woven together with intimacy and delicacy, sometimes providing a second-hand account and sometimes through Marshman becoming his subjects. At times they even speak for themselves, reverberating through Marshman’s recordings like ghosts at a wake.From ‘Suey Sue’ to ‘The Mouthy Young Person’ – each of his subjects are brought to life with an array of anecdotes, memories and thoughts on what Kings Cross means and meant to them.
His whole performance is considered; whether thorough a series of meaningful gestures that grab the essence of his characters or in the measured changes in costume used throughout.
The most striking thing is listening to how all these people, through big acts or small, were fighting for real social change, equality and an end to injustice. How they were fighting before, during and after the AIDS crisis, and how they’re still fighting today. The show reiterates that in so many ways this is a fight that’s ongoing. It’s eye-opening as a history, but it also draws daunting parallels between the epidemic of forty years ago and the situation we find ourselves in today.
It’s likewise a show about the importance of community, and standing up for what you believe in. Sure, Kings Cross eventually fell to capitalism and then gentrification, and in lots of ways the LGBTQ community has shifted into a more mainstream bubble – but that doesn’t mean we suddenly have to let our guard down and slide into apathy and inaction.
We need to keep fighting. And to keep talking.
The thing that brought this show and its aims home for me (and the reason this is such a long review, I suppose) was the post-show discussion held with Marshman and a representative from the Eddystone Trust (a South West organisation that provides support and advice on HIV). It’s the first time I’ve been to a post-show talk where the conversation wasn’t dominated by the show itself.
Instead, I sat in a room full of people who were talking about HIV – who were asking questions and actually engaging with each other. This for me was a hugely important part in the experience of the show, and with a little more structure and more sureness on the part of Marshman, I really think this type of discussion could be genuinely wonderful.
It’ll be interesting to see how the piece itself develops further. At the end of the show we’re all invited to dance, and it would be nice to build up to this moment through a heightened theatricality, or perhaps more audience interaction throughout. In its current state, Kings Cross is already a powerful and touching piece of theatre with the potential to generate a wider discussion about HIV.
Kings Cross (Remix) was on at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter. Click here for more details.