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When is the right time to tell somebody about your HIV status? Writer Paul Emelion presents a witty take on what you might expect to be an otherwise heavy subject matter.

Tackling HIV in gay theatre is not new, but delivering the message in such a bold comedy style is certainly a novel route to take. It’s a little unnerving to be sat there in a theatre, unsure at first whether we should be embracing the jokes that revolve around such a hugely life-altering moment that is confronting one’s HIV status. As things get under way it soon becomes apparent that when it comes to tragedy, it’s never truer a phrase that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And life’s certainly too short for that.

Hector (Reed Stokes) is throwing a party, and has decided to entertain in full drag for the first time, too. New pal Gucci (aka Prada, Armani, etc) is helping out, serving drinks and preparing quiches – “It’s like a lesbian Oscar night party,” he squeals! Gucci, played by Dimitrios Raptidis, gets the best lines and sharpest gags of the night, perfectly capturing the essence of the stereotypical Columbian masseur.

Pippin (Conleth Kane) arrives, tightly packed into his denim shorts delivering quote after quote from his favourite musicals. Although his last musical experience wasn’t too great – he decided to reveal his HIV status to his latest love interest during the interval of Wicked. The announcement didn’t go to well. Hector meanwhile, is awaiting the arrival of his ex-boyfriend (from whom he contracted HIV) and his new lover.

“The pathos and emotive moments contrast against the fast paced put-downs and high camp moments.”

The night derails as Pippin’s emotional rollercoaster picks up pace and the others engage each other with withering put-downs in comedic fashion, before it takes a more somber and reflective pace in the second half. The pathos and emotive moments contrast against the fast paced put-downs and high camp moments. That’s life after all, isn’t it?

Above The Stag is the only full-time gay theatre in the UK, and for such an intimate space it commands and deserves our attention. From the high camp frivolity of Bathhouse the Musical to more touching and engaging stage plays like Rise Like A Phoenix, it exemplifies the importance of how theatre offers such a unique opportunity to combine the vital issues that permeate through our community in a way that is both entertaining yet ultimately touching.

Above the Stag Theatre, 17 Miles Street, Vauxhall, SW8 1RZ.
Runs to Sunday 3rd May.

Frank's Closet is a gay themed musical at Wilton's Music Hall in London.

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