In 1985 William M Hoffman’s As Is was one of the original plays to deal head-on with AIDS, while the disease cast its dark cloud over the gay community of New York. Critically successful, it ran on Broadway and came to the UK in 1987. 25 years have passed and the Finborough Theatre is now giving audiences a chance to witness the devastating impact of AIDS upon this gang of friends once more.
The star-crossed lovers are Rich (Tom Colley) and Saul (David Poynor). During an argument over their recent break-up Rich reveals to his former lover: “I have IT” – it being the “plague” of AIDS that has begun to sweep across the sexual landscape of the city. Through a series of short scenes we witness numerous characters react to the diagnosis; in one emotive scene Rich crumples to the floor as he is overwhelmed by the other cast members’ responses, with his family thrown into dilemma. All are universally united in their terrified reaction: “Don’t touch me!”
Hoffman’s script is full of humour as well as sadness, refusing to bend to the devastating ravages that “turn a fruit into a vegetable”. Tom Kay, Jordan Bernarde and Anna Tierney shift seamlessly into a myriad of roles and transform the stage from a nightclub full of rampant promiscuity into a hospital deathbed. We are presented with AIDS hotline workers inundated with calls that range from the incessant to the hilariously absurd, as hysteria rises and more die.
We are compelled to hope for a new age of acceptance. Rich and Saul take solace in their love and an anonymous hospice worker (Clare Kissane) tells of her affection for a patient – a poor soul close to death whom no one will approach. It is the human spirit that imbues the play with hope for AIDS victims, and Colley poignantly enacts Rich’s determination to live. As the play draws to a close, the milk of human kindness displayed by the hospice worker is touching as she tells how she comforted a shunned and dying man by painting his nails a scandalous red – fighting until the very end.
As Is leaves audience members reeling with pathos for their fellow man, while still providing bittersweet laughter throughout.
Our rating: ****