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Ten best plays of the year so far

Review: Flamboyance, friendship and fear in 1980s New York - As Is, Trafalgar Studios

As Is, Steven Webb & David Poynor,Trafalgar Studios, 1 July - 1 August 2015. Courtesy Scott Rylander-045
As Is, Steven Webb & David Poynor. Photo: Scott Rylander

William Hoffman wrote As Is in the early 1980s when his friends started dying from AIDS. At the same time cancer struck his close family and he became depressed. The play was his coping mechanism but what lifted him from his depression was humour. Laughter was to prove the more powerful tool and As Is is filled with it despite its subject matter.

It tells the story of Rich (Steven Webb), a writer and runner, who has just left his long term boyfriend Saul (David Poyner) for the young and cute Chet (Giles Cooper). Everything is going well and he is thankful for it until he starts feeling ill and is diagnosed with AIDS.

Hoffman drew on real experiences and conversations among friends, the gay community, AIDS victims and their carers and it is this element of realism that is the soul of this piece. Rich isn't always likeable; fear makes him ugly, petulant, angry and full of self pity. He pushes away those trying to support him and rails against those staying away. You wince and yet feel his pain, the injustice and prejudice of society towards him. Indeed 30 years on it is difficult to comprehend that such prejudice existed but the play keenly replicates the pervasive sense of fear of the time.

The heart of the piece is the humour and friendship. The colour, flamboyance and unabashed libidinous of the gay scene in 1980s New York is imaginatively brought to life and with it a camp wit warmth and honesty. It feels wholly appropriate that the voice of a carer at the AIDS hospice (Jane Lowe) should be an Irish ex-nun with a love of whiskey and a penchant for un-PC jokes.

With the benefit of hindsight the impact of As Is is probably more in being reminded of how far we have come, what endures is the human story of despair, fear, friendship and crucially laughter. Amid the merriment and amusement there are darker undertones and a couple of lump in the throat moments (yes that's ironic given Rich's particular symptoms).

It runs at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until August 1 and is 80 minutes long without an interval.


Haven't had an audience connection for quite a while but I got one last night. Con O'Neill was watching the play and he played Mr W's solicitor in Criminal Justice.