★★ | Rise Like A Phoenix
Things have changed a great deal since the days of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Kevin Elyot’s My Night with Reg and Tony Kushner’s brilliant Angels in America. HIV is something we can talk about more openly, people don’t die anymore, and, with treatment, can live a pretty normal life, though there is still a lot of stigma attached to it.
Paul Emelion Daly’s new play, Rise Like a Phoenix, is billed as a comedy, but, apart from some admittedly hilarious one-liners, it actually takes itself rather seriously, maybe too seriously. As an HIV negative man, maybe I found it hard to identify with the five gay men, all of them HIV-positive, in Daly’s play, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of my HIV positive friends would have a problem too. Too many of the characters were fixated on the blame game, how they acquired the virus, who gave them the virus, and indeed, not giving too much away, much of the story revolved around a love triangle, in which one of the characters had unknowingly given it to one of the men, who then unknowingly gave it to another.
I was hoping that a new play about HIV would take a more positive stance, but it seemed to me, that, for all the talk of the success of antiretroviral therapy, emotionally the play was still stuck in the 90s, with its reminders of those tombstone adverts. But the whole landscape has changed since then and we live in a far more positive world (in both senses of the word) than we did? Why was there no talk of TasP (Treatment as Prevention), of PEP or PrEP, the once a day pill that stops you getting HIV?
I’m afraid I found it all rather dispiriting and negative.
Performances were good, but Tim McArthur’s usually faultless sense of pace seemed to have deserted him this time round and the play dragged for too much of the time.