Theatre review: First Time, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Despite the somewhat bitty devised nature of this one-man show by Nathaniel Hall, the raw, autobiographical passion of it escalates the piece to another level.

First Time, Summerhall (Venue 26)

First Time, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * * *

What begins as an apparently frivolous coming-of-age piece about growing up as a young gay man in Stockport of the early 2000s, and about his first sexual experiences with an older boyfriend named Sam, takes a more serious turn when Nathaniel is diagnosed with HIV as a result of these liaisons.

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He’s only sixteen years old when this happens, and the rest of his life up to the present point has been about coming to terms with his place in the universe all over again - not just as a gay man, but as a gay man with HIV. Through these personal explorations, a whole new level of stigma is explored, and the jokey continued references to Will Young’s Evergreen dogging Hall’s life illustrate a more deeply ingrained point.

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That is, few successful public figures represent the acceptance of gay men in British society more completely than Young, yet for those who must contend with life after an HIV diagnosis, ignorance and fear persist. The gap between Hall’s easy willingness to tell his parents about his sexuality and his fear of telling them about his health is an expanse.

Directed by Chris Hoyle, the show itself is fairly light-hearted, and Hall is a charmingly innocent young guy with a friendly, exuberant manner. Yet despite the possibly overly-stylised scenario he’s built for himself – the high school prom set and audience interaction land somewhere between gameshow and cabaret, although the image of Hall as a young innocent in cream prom tuxedo is poignant – it’s the sheer weight of his experience and his tribute to those who have died of and still live with a virus which is now perfectly containable with drug treatment which overwhelms. Like Young before him, Hall is cranking a necessary floodgate open.

Until 25 August