17th November 2014
When you are invited to a production in The Studio at The People's Theatre you know that you are in for an interesting evening. The Studio is a close, intimate space and I can't think of a better venue for Steve Burbridge's Testing Times.
The set is simple - three chairs in a row, centre stage, plus some atmospheric subdued lighting and timely spotlighting. nothing else to distract the audience from the words. And this is a play of words - funny, shocking and emotive words. Testing Times is the story of Dom (Christopher Strain), gay, bullied, attention seeking, recently diagnosed HIV positive. It is told through a series of conversations between three characters Dom, Chris his partner (Jamie Brown) and Brenda (Pauline Fleming) Dom's mother. They talk to each other and to the audience. The intimate space of the studio adds to the audience's sense that they are being confided in, we are drawn in so that we feel every emotion, every slight, every moment of joy. The three actors give such moving and convincing performances - very different characters who each deal with the situation differently. Brenda ferociously protective of her son, Dom, flighty and emotional, but my favourite was Chris, quiet, serious, practical but no less affected by the situation.
This is a hard subject for a play and there is very little action, the occasional emotional exit from the stage, as the story unfolds and tempers flare. But there is no loss of attention. we are engrossed in the story listening to the characters recount their side - the homophobic bullying, coping with the stigma of disease, we share the discomfort of the first meeting between Brenda and Chris, and we cringe at the attitude of Dom's father. But the time flies - almost before we realise it the story is at an end and we have laughed and cried and hoped against hope for these people. it is funny and heartbreaking but essentially hopeful. It is a play about homophobia and stigma and disease but it is also a love story. It could be tragic, and at times that is how it feels but it ends on a note of hope and positivity.
It plays at the People's Theatre until Thursday 20th November. It is emotional and excellent. Go see it.