Stockport- 2003. Sixteen year old Nathaniel Hall was unaware of what was to come when a dreamy Will Young lookalike fellow queer sat next to him on a bench, and offered him a stolen chicken sandwich. His first time hasn't left his brain since it happened. Diagnosed with HIV as a result of this experience, Nathaniel speaks out about his journey in an emotional rollercoaster of a show that will undoubtably touch every single person who watches, whether it be by relatable connection, or educated understanding if not personally affected.
Known as a star of the hit Channel 4 show It's a Sin, playing Donald Bassett, and being a strong advocate for HIV and AIDS, Nathaniel has already acclaimed himself as a hugely inspiring voice on the subject. From the moment you walk in to find your seat, it feels as if you are part of this important piece of theatre, as Nathaniel is bouncing about (in his little pink pants!) having a chat with the audience individually. Club Tropicana is on, and the environment feels relaxed.
Immediately shown to be a true performer, the story begins with a hilarious retelling of events, as little (mostly) in-the-closet Nathaniel is waiting for his cream prom tux to wear for the important night out with his 'girlfriend'. While doing so, he meets Sam, who is already in his twenties- and the man who changed his life. After getting to know each other a little, the pair soon embark of a night of excitement for Nathaniel, having his first sexual encounter.
To replicate the last dance- ironically, Evergreen by Will Young- an audience member is chosen to join Nathaniel (at an acceptable social distance, of course), and comedically mirroring what life would've been like had he been straight, including the thoughts of marriage and babies. However, when he falls ill on holiday shortly afterwards, it's not long before Nathaniel had to face the clinic. Initially denying the full tests required, despite the encouragement of lovely worker Sue, it was quickly deemed necessary, which revealed the three little letters that brought a crushing reality to Nathaniel: he had HIV. Following this, there is a loud ringing noise that signifies the pause and disruption caused by the news, that cannot be explained better in any other way.
Being in this position, and especially so young at the time, caused a devastating aftermath fuelled by drink, drugs and shame. Thrown into this emotional darkness, Nathaniel relied on daytime tv and questionable google 'listicles', alongside a cocktail of medications, to keep going, and has since become a hero.
With the audience urged to shout an assortment of slightly absurd responses, a quiz is conducted, as a more adult impression of those he took to schools to speak about his journey, which became a lot of fun, and an engaging way of creating discussion surrounding the likeliness of contracting HIV. As Nathaniel's case is undetectable, he mentions that he is, in fact, the least likely from the room to pass on the virus.
Reciting a list of things that have happened since the initial diagnosis, it is stressed how arguably the most difficult part was telling his parents of the ordeal, which subsequently has lead to living in secrecy until 2017, when devising this show. A letter to his 16 year old self was proposed to be read at Manchester Pride, though at the time, Nathaniel didn't feel able to perform this himself. Years later, he was invited back and accepted to do just that, articulating honest and heartbreaking words that spoke the truth about living with HIV. A devastating video of people with HIV is shown, and boxes of candles are passed among the audience which, when lit, make for a special moment of collectiveness for remembrance. A copy of the letter is given to each person as they leave, as well as red ribbons for AIDS awareness, as small gifts that are a fitting reminder of the evening.
It is clear that there is no real happy ending: the effects of living with HIV last forever, though it is possible to still exist boldly and fearlessly.
This show doesn’t need huge set- just Nathaniel telling his empowering story gets the point across perfectly. His strength and courage built is able to perpetuate onto next generation of survivors, breaking the stigma, while being a beautifully poignant reminder of the turmoil and grief fought through. There is a carefully crafted use of props in all the right places to make First Time hilarious yet remain raw, as well as being informative.
First Time is such an important piece that should be seen by every adult.