In 1987, Diana Princess of Wales visited London’s first AIDS Unit. It was a hugely significant and important event as during the visit she shook hands with a patient without wearing gloves. This historic moment was captured on film and the powerful image triggered a momentous shift in public and media perception of people living with HIV and AIDS.
This visit, now more than 30 years ago, forms the basis of a play written by Bren Gosling. Moment of Grace is told from the viewpoint of three individuals – Andrew a patient at the Unit, scared about his diagnosis and who worries about the impact his coming out would have on his family and friends but who is excited about the prospect of a visit from the Princess; Jade, a nurse on the ward looking after HIV-infected patients, caring and empathetic but who keeps her job a secret from her friends and family for fear of what they might think; and Donnie, a fireman married to his childhood sweetheart, yet who is estranged from his only son and who has his own rather bigoted and ignorant views on homosexuality, HIV and women.
As well as exploring the impact the Princess’ visit has on the three characters, Moment of Grace also takes inspiration from the oral history testimonies collected by the National HIV Story Trust’s archives and other original interview material.
The play was originally due to run at The Actors Centre’s Tristan Bates Theatre but thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic it has now been reimagined for the screen and is being streamed for a limited period.
Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the three actors shot the scenes in their own homes using a single phone camera, with no crew and using remote direction by Nicky Allpress.
The result is a film/theatre hybrid beautifully shot and sensitively told, treating the issues of HIV raised at the time – ignorance, prejudice and lack of medical knowledge in how to treat it – with compassion and sensitivity. It manages to intertwine the lives of the three people whose story it tells in a way that has you smiling and then welling up throughout.
The three actors – Luke Dayhill as Andrew, Lucy Walker-Evans as Jude and Andrew Paul as Donnie – are terrific and seeing their faces so close, with all the emotions etched onto them, adds to the intensity of the piece.
Engaging, powerful and full of emotion, in short it is storytelling at its best.
Moment of Grace is available to watch via The Actors Centre website until August 9. Tickets cost £6.