As Is is a play that is currently on its three week run (from July 8-30) at Trafalgar Studios. It was written by William M. Hoffman and first shown in 1985 to educate people about HIV. When I asked Director of this project, Andrew Keates, for an outline of the play – he replied: “It’s the story of a gay relationship, the lives they touch and the beauty of living someone As Is.”
Defining himself as somewhat of a revolutionist, “my work has been in response to what was happening at the time”, Keates has made theatrical statements about politics, gay marriage and of course, HIV. “Everyone has the same goal of trying to raise awareness of HIV through theatre, rather than poster campaigns.”
The timing of the play, mirrors our contemporary lives. With 110,000 living with HIV in the UK, the country under a Conservative government facing austerity; the play which was first shown in the days of Margaret Thatcher when the country was in a similar place economically and when the AIDS epidemic at its most poignant.
Keates’ intention is to give insight into those difficult years and inform the younger generation of how things were when the concept of AIDS was still a taboo. He made it clear that awareness, not profit was the motivation behind putting out the show: “I don’t actually think the play was popular back then because people may not [necessarily] have wanted to see an AIDS play.”
“It is a remarkable play with a fantastic cast, beautifully written and well crafted.” The conversation took a more serious turn as he explained how the play has inspired people to get tested for themselves: “It’s a very emotional piece and will encourage people to consider getting HIV tested sooner rather than later.”
After every Friday show there will be an opportunity for audience members to get tested straight away. “I want to create an event, based in London’s West End where people can take pamphlets home, find out more information, take advantage of our resources and partnerships with charities and pharmaceutical companies and have the chance to get tested themselves. It’s more than just a show.”
Keates’ own story has been a talking point in the post-show discussions – giving a chance for audiences to air their thoughts and feelings about the play and the topic behind it. “I didn’t choose to be HIV positive, but I am”. Keates was diagnosed during the 2013 run of As Is, which he also directed.
“I thought it would be the end of my career and that I’d never find love again.” People have also queried about the lack of memorials to the high numbers of people who lost their lives from the disease in the 80s and 90s and of how much they’ve learned about HIV that they never knew before, which “makes it all worthwhile” to Keates.
As Is has been met with positive response from people of all walks of life and has already sold out for a couple of dates. Keates was quick to add, this wasn’t a “gay play but an AIDS play”.
“There are 60 totally different characters – who are suffering from or dealing with HIV in some way. It can enter anybody’s life. The disease doesn’t discriminate so people shouldn’t either.” He continued saying that it should help put stigma and prejudices aside. “This play teaches us to love, not to fight and I think this is why As Is stands out from other Aids plays.”
“We need to start hating the virus and loving the people instead of the other way round. So many people are unaware they are carrying HIV – this makes them more infectious and likely to spread the disease further by simply sleeping with someone.”
As the interview came to an end, I was keen to know what message he would send out to those considering coming to see the play:
“I would encourage people to come and see this with an open mind and open heart and to be willing to get educated about how real, terrible and devastating this virus is.”