HIV is an infectious virus which is highly contractible that can ruin someone’s life and can be extremely difficult for that person to admit it, not only to other people. Above The Stag Theatre’s recent production of Paul Emelion Daly’s current play, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ was one that highlights the illness to a contemporary audience, furthermore, the performances were excellently characterised.
‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ is set in the flat of estate agent, Hector, who is holding a party where he is dressed in drag for his ex-boyfriend, Alan. However, the flat where the party is being held was once owned by both Hector and Alan. The break up between the two of them has been kept under wraps and when Alan arrives with his current partner, painter and decorator, Eddie (Jonny Dickens), there is the obvious awkward tension that you’d expect from a break up. When Hector and Alan’s friend, musical theatre fan, Pippin makes his dramatic entrance after walking out during the interval of musical, ‘Wicked’, this is due to the fact that has been diagnosed with HIV, and is refusing to take vital medication that can maintain some level of good health. Over the course of the production, Hector has employed Colombian masseur, Gucci (Dimitrios Rapitidis) to serve the drinks and food for the party in a very tight pair of gold shorts makes a move on Alan’s boyfriend. The performance oozed campness; exclusively Pippin’s song and dance sequence where he explains his passion for musical theatre as it’s a form of therapy of how he is coming to terms with his HIV diagnosis. Contrariwise, Hector and Alan do believe that he must seek professional help so that he can sort out his emotional problems. We are soon informed that Eddie was once married and that he contracted HIV through his wife, and as such Alan became infected due to unprotected sexual activity at the school where they first met. Alan soon has to tell Hector that he was responsible for the HIV virus, and Hector is furious with such revelations and demands that Alan and Eddie must leave the flat. At the finale, there is a tender moment where we see Hector and Pippin cuddling up on the sofa, reassuring Pippin that he will be okay. Emelion Daly’s narrative is agreeable as here are some moving moments between the former couple, Hector and Alan, but there are aspects of the show that are too camp and over-the-top which needed toning down slightly.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ were radiantly conveyed through enjoyable scenes that captivated humour and emotional content. Reed Stokes is divine as estate agent, Hector; in particular when you can see him hurting when he is witnessing the passionate moments between Alan and Eddie, also his alter-ego, “Fanny Sparkles” shows how confident and provocative he is. Lewis Rae is sublime as Hector’s former partner, Alan; chiefly the moments where his OCD is magnified at the slight of mess on the carpet, and during the interval we can see him hovering up the dirt on the carpet which was funny to observe. Conleth Kane is amazing as musical enthusiast, Pippin; expressly the monologue about how the genre of theatre allows him to come to terms with his HIV status, and how his parents will be disappointed that he got himself into this situation.
Tim McArthur’s direction is pleasing here as he been able to instruct the LGBT community of their responsibilities that you need to be protected against sexual acts and if you do not do so, then this is extremely immature and somewhat unforgivable. Zoe Hurwitz’s design is opulent here as the flat appears really shabby, which is quite surprising for a flat that is owned by an estate agent. As well as, the scenic art elements were of a high standard. Overall, the experience of, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ was well considered and makes a clear statement that HIV is still an issue that needs to be presented.