REVIEW: Testing Times, The People’s Theatre, Newcastle

NO-HOLDS BARRED ... Testing Times is at the People's Theatre, in Newcastle.
NO-HOLDS BARRED ... Testing Times is at the People's Theatre, in Newcastle.
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WITH around 20,000 people in the North East affected by the HIV virus and 10 per cent of those developing the full-blown AIDS virus, this is a topic as relevant today as it was back in the 1980s.

Straight or gay, male or female, this horrendous disease does not recognise sexual preferences as it wrecks the lives of carriers and of those close to them.

Writer Steve Burbridge has based this excellent play on the personal accounts of North East men with the disease. Thankfully HIV, although incurable, is a treatable disease.

Testing Times has a double meaning; testing as in being tested for a sexually transmitted disease and testing as to the turbulent and difficult times for the person and their loved ones when diagnosed with HIV.

The story is told through 20-something Dominic (Christopher Strain) and the effects on his partner, Chris (Jamie Brown), and mother, Brenda (Pauline Fleming).

Through a series of monologues and informal interjections we witness the tumultuous but ultimately loving relationship between all three. The performances of Strain, Brown and Flemming are wonderfully sincere and so believable that you are instantly immersed in their world.

The first half is more jovial as cheeky chappy Dominic relates how he always knew he was different (he preferred chasing boys while playing catchy kissy), the school bullies, sexual abuse and the constant threat of violence.

Both Dominic and Chris talk about how they met and how they become a loving couple. Brenda, as the supportive mother, initially tells of how she saw Chris as the person who “robbed her of grand-children” but soon accepted Dominic’s circumstances; “He was very happy”.

Burbridge, who also directed this moving piece, enters dark territory in the second half as the trio deal with the disease and, as important, their own feelings.

This play is not for the faint-hearted: medical facts are related in graphic detail.

Your heart goes out to young Dominic whose sexual transgressions are minor on a scale compared with some heterosexual men at that stage in his life, but he’s been unlucky.

Frank and funny, poignant and provocative, Testing Times chronicles the journey from anger, fear and despair to acceptance, strength and hope.

A no-holds-barred but ultimately warm and at times funny, heartfelt story about suffering, friendship and compassion, Testing Times is a thoroughly absorbing piece of theatre that fully deserves many more runs.

It runs until Thursday.