Review: First Time @ Waterside, Trafford

It’s so rare for me to think a one-man show isn’t long enough because, let’s be honest, most of them could be condensed into 15 minutes.

But First Time was Not. Long. Enough. It’s a delicious all you can eat buffet of emotions, education, and noughties musical nostalgia which left me hungry for more.

The story of someone contracting HIV aged 17 the first time they had sex could easily be a depressing lament of regret, but Nathaniel has crafted a piece which is full of joy, stamps out shame, and feels – on the 30th anniversary of World AIDS day – like a swan song for the stigma of the past.

Nathaniel successfully uses his personal experience as a prism for the changing shape of society, relating the two in such a way that they both have enough room to breathe.

The relationship between his personal journey and changing social norms are depicted by perfectly timed historical references, with the jarring words of Margaret Thatcher and James Anderton illuminating the causes of HIV stigma.

Nathaniel Hall is such an engaging stage presence that I could have watched him for hours. He is so warm and intelligent that he conveys the naivety of a teenager, the desperation of alcohol and drug abuse, and scars of the AIDs crisis with a mixture of humour, sorrow, and defiant rage.

Every stage of the show has a carefully crafted mood and Nathaniel’s use of space and emotive self-expression are completely transfixing, accompanied throughout by on-point imagery with props and lighting used to transformative effect.

His personal journey from frightened teen to confident out-and-out-again man is as fascinating as it is moving, and the messaging is present throughout.

More than just a beautifully sad homage to victims of the AIDS crisis it is also an appraisal for the NHS at a time of budget cuts and closing sexual health clinics. With a fun segment on sexual health to boot, the informative nature of the shows content is never lost in its theatrics.

Using a personal tragedy to tell a story of hope and change for all is an incredible feat and watching it is an absolute joy and a total cry fest.

By the show’s poignant climax I felt both devastated and elated which is an unusual combination, but this is an unusual show.

It’s a show full of First Times: the first-time contemporary experiences of HIV have been depicted on stage; the first time a dressing gown and bum bag combo has looked good; and the first time I’ve thought about what a banger Evergreen by Will Young is since I was 10.

Related Articles