As Is

Theatre, Bedlam Theatre, Venue 49, 11:30 until August 5th-16th, 18th-30th.

As Is is a play which premiered in 1985 during the peak hysteria surrounding the emergence of HIV in the gay community, something which was in the press ignorantly called the ‘gay plague’. Although a subject which  at first glance niche and aged, like Madonna; the play is actually shown to be illustrative of much more.

Examining the struggle of a community attempting to love and take love ‘as it is’ in the face of disaster and the past betrayals, the play successfully attempts to explore the fragility of life, and acceptance of mortality. The effect was profound.

The exploration of the devastating effects of HIV in the New York community in this time highlights how much progress has been done in recent decades to tackle the illness. The use of mix media, playing news reports of the time when HIV was a largely unknown spectre, and the increasing panic which ensued, was particularly powerful. But this panic was something not dissimilar to the panic we now see facing diseases such as the Ebola epidemic. It seems ignorance is timeless. Although tackling subject matter that was very much of it’s time, ‘As Is’ manages to escape from becoming dated.

Performance was solid, in particular Blake Rubena’s contribution as the charismatic, witty, yet inherently flawed Rich, was distinctly powerful. The exploration of Rich’s diagnosis on his family, community and friends was also interestingly explored, however at times felt frustratingly limited. The relationship between Rich and his brother, although explored, felt at times unsatisfactory and ignored of it’s potential.

Further, at times Saul, the unrelenting, and often unappreciated ex-lover of Rich verged on irritating and needy in his relentless acceptance of Rich. But I guess that is the whole point of  ‘As Is’; love isn’t always particularly easy to look at from outside.

Often very witty, the dialogue harnessed the power of gallows humour without being insensitive and always dealt with the subject matter with grace. In particular the productions treatment of the issues around mortality, acceptance and bargaining with death were touchingly shown, focusing on both the bodily consequences and the spiritual.

Theatre Company ‘Mice on a Beam’ presents a sensitive and humorous view into the acceptance of mortality, not just within the individual, but how this acceptance and fear rocked a community. ‘Mice on a Beam’ also seem to strive to have an educational vein running though their production also, with the cast choosing to end their show by saying a few words about the prospects of people living with HIV today, and raising money for a local, Edinburgh based charity which works with people with HIV.

Image courtesy of Dashiell Jackson.

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