Theatre Review: First Time (Summerhall, Edinburgh Festival Fringe) ★★★★

Do you remember your first time? Nathaniel Hall certainly does, and finally, he is willing to share it all.

Hall is a delightful performer – engaging, funny and extremely likeable. His vamping as the audience enters, where he seems unprepared and vulnerable, is all for show as this piece is thoroughly developed and executed with razor-sharp focus.

Hall takes us back to 2003, replete with retro tracks and fashion throwbacks. His younger self is on the cusp of coming out – wearing a cream Tuxedo to his prom is the same thing, he quips – but in the era of Section 28, when schools were forbidden to educate students about same sex relationships, he is still somewhat naive. He meets his first boyfriend, Sam, an older man who resembles Will Young. The relationship doesn’t last, but when Hall tests positive shortly afterwards his life goes into a tailspin.

This is a deeply personal piece, but for the darker moments there is a bright light up ahead. The days of the “Don’t Die Of Ignorance” adverts are thankfully behind us, and he clearly explains the realities of living with HIV, busting numerous myths, without losing the shape of the play. There are incredibly moving moments, and also a lot of laughs. Hall’s attention to detail is immaculate, and he is such a likeable storyteller that he is able to address really challenging aspects head on. The piece is always hopeful, because he is there in front of the audience – a survivor who is using his story to both educate and entertain.

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The staging appears simple at first, but with Irene Jade’s thoughtful design and Joel Clements’ effective lighting design the production develops, culminating in an emotional finale that is both raw and powerful.

Hall is a courageous advocate, and offers inspiration to those who are living in fear. Shame, as he observes, just leads to further anger and sadness, and there is altogether too much of that in the world already. First Time is a poignant piece that will challenge your preconceptions while making you laugh, think, and cry.

By Deborah Klayman

First Time plays at Summerhall, Edinburgh until 25th August.

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