Review: FIRST TIME, VAULT Festival

By: Feb. 02, 2020

Review: FIRST TIME, VAULT Festival Review: FIRST TIME, VAULT Festival

After an acclaimed debut in Edinburgh last summer, Nathaniel Hall is bringing his autobiographical one-man show First Time to VAULT Festival before heading off on tour to tell his story of shame and acceptance.

He was barely 17 when he contracted HIV the very first time he was intimate with another man. The diagnosis set off a vicious circle of self-hatred and embarrassment that ended with what Hall describes as his "Britney 2006 moment" except that it wasn't that long ago.

He meets the audience in a dressing gown and cocaine moustache, chugging gin straight from the bottle like a deer in the headlights at the sight of people's entrance in the room. This cocktail of comedy and poignancy marries well with his charisma and storytelling as he handles the changes in tone and atmosphere brilliantly. Dark, spiky humour alternates with the harrowing guilt he felt as a young man and the self-destructive coping mechanisms he employed.

Directed by Chris Hoyle, the show is engaging and vibrant with intensely visual scenarios following scenes that are somber and moving in their delivery. This dramatised retelling of his personal journey to overcoming the stigma of HIV opens up to include a tribute to those who perished in the past and the NHS workers who help patients every day.

Original music, a crisp soundscape (curated by Hall himself), dynamic lighting design (Joel Clements), and an eloquent set (Irene Jade) aid the narration and move the action through time and space in a fluid pace.

In a brief hour, Hall presents a heartbreaking and eye-opening yet extremely uplifting tale. The activist and advocate for LGBTQ rights concludes with a message of hope and understanding, having educated his public on the huge steps taken by scientific research from his diagnosis to now too. First Time is a touching and effective piece of theatre, handling an exceptionally heavy subject with ease while never stumbling on its own themes.

First Time runs at VAULT Festival until 2 February and then is on tour around the UK.