The year is 1985, Ronald Reagan is currently serving his second term as president of the United States, Live Aid grips the world as musical acts in both London and Philadelphia, including the likes of Led Zeppelin and Queen rule the waves, and Back to the Future dominates the box office, grossing over $210,000,000. However, underneath all of the glitz and glam, there appears to be a secret war on home ground, a war on health, as the world begins to open its eyes and learn about the life threatening impact of AIDS.
Produced by Arion Productions, As Is, first performed three decades ago receives a celebratory revival in the heart of London, Trafalgar Studios. An exuberant piece of theatre depicting the care free life of a young writer living amongst the hustle and bustle of New York, it is apparent as to why the production has been revived for a 21st century audience. The aspirational Rich could very easily be a 20 something Brit, living in a dingy, over priced, 1 bedroom apartment in London, yearning for his lucky break in the fast paced city. I therefore wonder whether this production could be reimagined in a British climate in the 21st century?
Steven Webb‘s bright eyed Rich and David Poynor‘s down to earth Saul immediately draw the audience on side, as their quick witted exchanges power up the production for heart breaking truths to take effect. As I watch the production, I can’t stop thinking of successful American sitcoms such as Will and Grace. The production’s style of acting pays tribute to these sitcoms adding an element of nostalgia that keeps the production buoyant, however again I wonder how the play would translate it if had a drier sense of humour or was downplayed a bit more? The audience however are left questioning whether Rich and Saul will get together, however their relationship feels more like a friendship than a romance.
As Is doesn’t preach, it places a young man’s experience of being diagnosed with AIDS to the fore. At a time where the infamous AIDS campaign caused fear amongst US and UK civilians, and certain groups were labelled as being more likely to become effected by the disease, As Is is the complete antithesis to this fear. The most striking moments of the production are when Rich informs Saul of his illness, and the ensemble create a soundscape of the different reactions of his family members and his interaction with his macho brother, played by Dino Fetscher as he lay in his hospital bed. These offer opportunities for nuance, which I would have liked to have seen more of.
Andrew Keates no doubt directs a vibrant, non apologetic piece, placing a miscroscope on a subject matter that otherwise is designated to the mid 80s and forgotten about, although millions currently live with HIV and AIDS. The production is brave, and as I sit watching it, I know that the piece would have created shockwaves throughout the theatre scene, due to its trail blazing nature. Tim McQuillen-Wright‘s set design comprising of dingy water pipes, mouldy lockers and a pristine white chair bed centre stage perfectly encapsulate the piece, the setting caging the characters into a world where they are faced with life changing revelations and decisions. 3.5/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
As Is is currently showing at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday 1st August. For more information on the production, visit here…