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Testing Times at The People’s Theatre, Newcastle

Published by: Cameron Lowe on 18th Nov 2014 | View all blogs by Cameron Lowe
It is a rare occasion, indeed, when a play lives up fully to the rhetoric contained within the marketing material. Billed as being “poignant and provocative, funny and frank” and being audacious enough to boast quotes that compare the piece to The Vagina Monologues, Calendar Girls and Blood Brothers, the creative team responsible for Testing Times had set the bar about as high as it goes. As I first suspected, the play did not live up the rhetoric – it surpassed it by far!
Testing Times by Steve Burbridge
Image: David Thorman 

Steve Burbridge, who has written, directed and produced the piece has bestowed upon the theatrical world a play that is nothing less than a modern-day masterpiece. The script crackles along at a pace that makes the time fly by and the performances from the cast of three exceed outstanding. 
The story centres around the extremely camp but very likeable Dominic – a young gay man who, throughout the course of the play, is diagnosed HIV+, his feisty mother, Brenda, and Chris, Dominic’s “straight-acting” partner.
Based upon genuine interviews with HIV+ men from the North East, the script rings with authenticity. The dialogue is deliciously conversational and never stilted for a moment. Laced with wonderfully wicked on-liners, moments of genuine tenderness and flashes of conflict, the actors really have a script to get their teeth in … and they don’t disappoint.
Christopher Strain (Dominic) takes the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride, switching from carefree, youthful effervescence to the dark depths of despair and back again. Pauline Fleming draws upon her wealth of experience as a TV soap regular and depicts a no-nonsense matriarch who has the audience on side from her first speech, her forthright opinions and nagging of Dominic making her all the more funny and real. Jamie Brown completes the line-up perfectly as the g committed, caring and compassionate partner of Dominic.
The chemistry between the three is something special to behold and there isn’t a weak link amongst them. And the tears that are shed by all three, when Dominic is given his HIV diagnosis, were certainly not manufactured in their dressing rooms – they were real and heartfelt.
Testing Times is an utterly compelling, really enjoyable and hugely important piece of new writing: it made me laugh, it made me cry and, more importantly, it made me look at HIV and AIDS in a completely different way. 
This is a must-see show and I cannot recommend it highly enough! 

Until Thursday 20th November 2014
Review by Erica Clements.



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