Review | First Time at The Spring, Havant: ‘Gently moves from playful to heartwrenching’

‘IT’S just three little letters’, says actor, theatre-maker, and HIV activist Nathaniel Hall as he brings his one man play First Time to a close.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 11:20 am
The First Time, by Nathaniel Hall, was at The Spring Arts Centre, Havant. Picture by Andrew Perry
The First Time, by Nathaniel Hall, was at The Spring Arts Centre, Havant. Picture by Andrew Perry

He performed at The Spring in Havant last night, one stop on his tour as he brings the show to venues across the UK.

First Time is a brutally honest account of Nathaniel’s HIV+ diagnosis - a result of his first sexual experience at the age of 17.

Sometimes funny and often sad, this autobiographical work dramatises Nathaniel’s journey from his 2003 prom night, through his romance with an older man, into the consulting room where he is given his HIV+ diagnosis, and eventually to his breakdown.

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The audience is often asked to participate: holding candles to a touching slideshow of black and white photographs taken on a HIV ward, or calling out jokey answers in a ‘who is more likely to give you HIV’ quiz.

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This interactivity feels personal, emotionally connecting the viewers with the work, which gently moves from playful to heart-wrenching.

Having hidden his status from his family for nearly 15 years, Nathaniel penned a touching letter coming out as HIV+ to his parents, a copy of which was given to each audience member.

First Time brings the audience up to the present day, as Nathaniel channels his energies into his advocacy work.

Aside from his acting – you may know him as a star of the Russell T Davies’ series It’s A Sin – Nathaniel also leads a community-led creative outreach project In Equal Parts, which tackles stigma and shame.

Of course, HIV is so much more than ‘three little letters’, and Nathaniel explores the fear, shame, and stigma which still comes with a diagnosis – as well as the depression and anxiety and self-destructive behaviour it can cause.

But First Time emphasises, above all else, a message of hope.

The word is written on four paper envelopes clipped to the head of the stage, present throughout the entire play. Hope is always there.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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