It’s unfortunate that this piece doesn’t meet the minimum 3-week run to be considered for the Off West End awards because there’s much to appreciate in POSITIVE. I was initially put off by the predictable gushing from the gay websites at yet another ‘gay play’ but this one wanders nicely off-piste with some almost off-colour jokes and differing attitudes to HIV. I’d encourage it to go even deeper into the powder because it was the un-politically-correct lines- like “I almost stuck my nice clean carrot into your hummus of death” that got the most raucous laughs.

‘Benji’ (call him Ben next time, he’s not a boxer puppy) is a tousled-blond fresh-faced sweetie who thanks to an unfortunate one-night stand (why is it always a one-night stand, people get AIDS from relationships too) has tested positive and it devastates his thinking for a year before he plucks up the courage to go clubbing again – where he first meets an ignorant tosser who wants into his pants until he’s told he *must* use a condom, when he freaks out.

At the same time, HIV has stained the lives and strained the relationship of his charity worker landlady and her heterosexual partner. Although theirs is the less convincing story, it’s good that the piece takes the issue outside the gay ghetto, as few such plays have in the past.

Author Shaun Kitchener (also playing nice-guy Matt who later falls for Benji) comes from the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme, and it shows: this is mostly a remarkably well-written piece with some nicely controlled scenes and best of all – and rare for the gay-play genre – realistic and drily comic dialogue in the style of Royal Court graduates like David Eldridge or Mike Bartlett.

Among a strong cast, once you get over the fact that Timothy George is so cute that everyone in the audience would willingly have taken him home, he makes a very convincing Benji and his moments of irritation and anger are entirely believable. Paul Heelis finds something meaningful even in the most lightly-drawn character, the heterosexual boyfriend Greg, and Sally George is terrific as Benji’s Daily-Mail-reading mother Margo.

Positive had an airing at Edinburgh as a 60-minute piece and has been extended to two hours including an interval. I’d say a fresh look at the script – including some editing of the unintentional double-entendres: after Benji has his first night out in a year, his landlady says “I know you’ve just come back from a random big one” – and a trim to around 90 minutes without an interval would be a winning format for a genuinely funny piece that deserves further productions.

If this means we can finally laugh at AIDS, it means we’ve nearly beaten it.

Remote GoatOriginally published on