Twenty-five years ago, the gay population in the USA was facing an unprecedented medical crisis, one that threatened to kill off the entire community.

A new disease had immerged, its origins were little known and any sort of cure or treatment for its symptoms was still a pipedream too far for all of its victims. By 1987, the year As Is first played in London, Act Up, (the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power) reported that over 41,000 people had died because of this new virus, HIV, which essentially killed the immune system, leaving the person unable to fight off disease and infections.
From this tragedy some incredible human stories were unfurled, astonishing artwork and heartbreaking literature was created out of the despair that was the 1980’s Aids epidemic.

As Is, written by William M. Hoffman, is reportedly the first of a long line of awarding winning plays which hopes to explain the suffering that this ravaging thief of a syndrome caused; not just to it’s eventual victims, but the people who were around to see their once vibrant friends, family and lovers die, one by one in unimaginable pain.

The story centres on the rekindling relationship between two ex-lovers Rich (Tom Colley), a young writer, just about to enjoy the success of his writing and his long-time lover Saul (David Poynor), a professional photographer. After Rich discovers that the disease that has destroyed so many of his friend’s lives has struck him, he returns to Saul for sanctuary.

Both Colley and Poynor offer up extraordinary performances, the frustrations and imprisonment of both Rich and Saul’s situation bubbles through their words and actions. Their combined anguish is palpable and fiery, but amidst the anger, there are moments of pure intimacy, beautifully played and honoured.
The ensemble cast are outstanding particularly Anna Tierney, who plays a variety of roles. Her more understated performance was a humbling reminder that not every PWA (person with Aids) was a gay male living in New York, but sometimes, as the syndrome drove its way into traditional America, a mother-to-be, caught up in the nightmare.

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The spirited supporting cast includes: Tom Kay, Paul Standell, Clare Kissane and Jordan Bernarde, who offers a breakthrough performance of a brother coming to terms with his sibling’s demise. Stylistic ensemble set pieces, keeps As Is’s aging gay references contemporary, by giving them tongue-in-cheek nods to caricatures we know, love. The fluidity of the cast’s reaction to the drama is a thoughtful way to ensure that today’s audience easily assimilates the play’s sometimes-dated and American centric humour.

Beneath the surface of Andrew Keates’ direction lies a pacey, raw anger. Each line and utterance demonstrates one of the most honest emotions to emerge from the Aids epidemic in the 80s. The show’s design, by Philip Lindley, is a perfect metaphor, mirroring the end stages for the victims of Aids and the government’s inactivity in responding to the crisis – a crumbling building, dying from the inside and largely ignored.

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It’s almost impossible now for this generation of gay men to imagine losing their lovers and closest friends to an unstoppable virus – the frustrations of the 80’s gay community seems so distance, yet in the mere 25-year time lapse from this play’s first outing in London, it still feels fresh, raw and vitally important.
As If runs at the Finborough Theatre until 31st August 2013

About the author: Jake Hook
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.