2021 marks 40 years since the first reports of HIV/AIDS emerged out of the US, a disease that has gone on to kill millions around the world, but one that has had a particular impact on the gay community.
The epidemic has shaped queer art for decades, and we continue to see film, TV, theatre and literature set during the height of the pandemic – think It's a Sin or Pose.
Yet few stories get told about HIV in the 21st century – and it's even rarer to get an older perspective on the battle.
Shane Bosher's latest, Everything After, shifts that focus, telling the story of Nick (Simon Prast), a 55-year-old living with HIV who survived "the war" and now works in HIV prevention, trying to stop the next generation of gay New Zealand men spending a lifetime on medication.
The rarity of this perspective on stage makes the first act of Everything After sparkle. Nick lives with survivor's guilt, having lost friends and lovers at the height of the pandemic, while also battling loneliness and stigma with his diagnosis. Adjusting to an age where relationships begin online rather than in saunas, he matches with the younger Tom (Matt Minto), and finds a chance at love again.
It's a slow, gentle, character-driven first act, aided by Bosher's sharp dialogue and a moving, subtle performance by Prast – even if he required frequent line prompts on opening night.
However, Everything After is truly a play of two halves. By the interval, it was not quite clear where the story was heading or what the conclusion might be. The reason why is obvious early in the second, where the story takes a sharp turn, burying the character study in hedonistic montages and further muddying the point of the play.
While it does provide a rarely portrayed look at drug abuse in the gay community, little room is given to character development to properly explore Nick's journey. Instead, the second act becomes largely one-note that makes it difficult to sympathise with him or believe his journey.
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It might have helped if the play had integrated more of Nick's experiences in the 80s to contextualise his current circumstances. Alison Bruce and Stephen Lovatt do their best with the little they are given to work with as Nick's long-time friends Mary and Mike, but their past is largely left undiscussed and any mention to the 80s feels detached from the main story – namely through a recurring series of monologues Mike delivers separate from the main story.
Oddly, it also avoids discussing much of the progress that has been made in recent years. Despite seemingly being set between around 2011 and 2013, gay marriage gets only a passing mention. Bosher takes time to shine a light on modern difficulties within HIV prevention and spreading the message, but the play's approach to the science, including U=U, has the potential to misinform the audience, especially given that the plotline involving it is only fleetingly resolved.
On the plus side, Everything After is wonderful to look at, thanks to the combination of Dan Williams' crisp, modern set and lighting designer Sean Lynch's incredible work that wonderfully heightens every emotion and mood change. Arlo Green, despite being featured prominently in advertising, appears only fleetingly in three separate roles, but is a stand-out in every brief moment he has on stage.
As a production, Everything After has a lot going for it: great cast, amazing design and a powerful, rarely told story that shines a much needed light on older, queer stories. Unfortunately, the second act dilutes the emotion of the first, offering little resolution or purpose and failing to live up to the power of its potential.
What: Everything After
Where: Q Theatre, until July 18