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As Is Not Packing the Expected Punch at the Finborough

When my taller half and I were looking through current shows we were immediately intrigued by William M. Hoffman's As Is, currently playing at the Finborough Theatre. Originally produced in 1987 it was a groundbreaking look at the AIDS epidemic in young, gay, New York men. It is a powerful play whose mix of drama and comedy only serve to strengthen its effect on the audience.

Hoffman manages to bring the audience inside the most intimate relationships of Rich, a writer recently diagnosed with AIDS. From his long time lover to his new fling, from his friends to his brother we feel the pain, sorrow, fear and confusion of every character. These are fully realised people that come no where near the stereotypes we often see portrayed. But is that enough?

As Is promotional image
Generally, I can say that the acting at the Finborough is flawless, but today I cannot. Tom Colley as the protagonist, Rich, seems to have equated volume with intensity and so many of his lines are shouted at full volume when they perhaps would have been more powerful slightly muted. His commitment to the character is laudable however and Rich is a bit on the dramatic side as a character so we forgive a slight tendency toward ham. It is a tear-inducing moment indeed when he announces to his AIDS support group that he thinks he's getting better. A moment that can only gain in resonance as, almost thirty years on, scientists are still searching for answers, people are still battling the disease and fighting the stigma of a HIV or AIDS diagnosis.

What was more distracting was Clare Kissane's accent. She plays a hospice nurse (among other characters) who seems to have a New Yorker/Californian/English/Irish accent that is continuously changing. I found myself wondering more about where both the actor and the character were from than paying attention to what she was saying. Given that she has the opening and closing monologues, that's unfortunate and weakens the impact of the entire play. It's also unfortunate because of her clear talent as an actress, she portrays a woman who is, at once, funny, hardened and broken by her experience.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast are incredibly strong with a heart wrenching performance from David Poyner as Saul, the former lover who takes in the dying Rich and an equally compelling, but hilarious performance from Tom Kay as Rich's new boyfriend, the naive and unwilling Chet.

From half an hour before the performance begins, the cast begin to appear on stage and never break character. As a whole, the ensemble, the set, the music and lighting, this production is an undeniable success and well worth a evening of your time. With no intermission, the play is a ninety minute experience in the reality of human experience. 

Although AIDS may be considered a chronic condition in the wealthy, Western world, today, that is not the truth of the disease in the 1980s, in poor communities and nations or even today in London or New York. As Is looks deep into what it means to have AIDS but even more deeply and honestly at what it means to love, to live, to die and to be afraid.

As Is is playing at the fantastic Finborough Theatre until 31 August. Tickets are £10 (concessions & Tuesdays), £14 (regular & all tickets on Saturdays) until 18 August. From 20 August through the end of the run tickets are £12 (concessions), £13 (Tuesdays), £16 (regular & all tickets on Saturdays). You can purchase tickets for no additional fees on the Finborough website. 

On a sad note, the wine bar that used to operate on the ground floor of the theatre has gone out of business so check out Old Brompton Road for pre-dinner dining or there is a shop next to the theatre for snacks and drinks. Yes, the shop sells alcohol - because I know an English trip to the theatre isn't complete without a tipple.

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