Hope Theatre, London – until 16 July 2022
Guest reviewer: Diana Miranda
Moment of Grace by Bren Gosling narrates Princess Diana’s visit to Britain’s first HIV/AIDS unit at the end of the eighties. It’s a personal and moving show that addresses people’s misconceptions that kept AIDS a taboo, driven by anger and fear. The show is produced by Backstory Ensemble Productions in association with The National HIV Story Trust (NHST), a charity set up to ensure the history of the 80’s and 90’s HIV/AIDS pandemic is not forgotten.
Inspired by personal testimonies, Moment of Grace interweaves the narration of three characters: a kind-hearted nurse whose job is kept a secret (Narisha Lawson), an even-tempered patient looking back at the effects of the disease on his life (James Taylor-Thomas), and a prejudiced fireman who has drifted away from his son (Richard Costello). However, the show goes beyond personal views and lays the ground to reflect on the grand effect of a moment of grace in the larger scheme of things.
There’s no way around the fact that The Hope Theatre is a mini-black box above a pub. The minimalistically staged show preserves this vibe under director Su Gilroy and AD Theresa Burke-Findlay. With three people and three stools, the actors take turns narrating their memories directly to the audience. The minimalism itself is raw, and the show’s highlight focuses on the narration. Each character unravels their memories of the days ahead of Princess Diana’s arrival and the huge effect that visit ought to have on each of them.
The writing is smooth and sprinkled with beautiful lines. All three characters are well-sketched and suffused with great warmth by the actors. The costume design effectively provides a glimpse of each character’s essence. As for Princess Diana, well, to portray a royal icon on stage is a challenging task, but the writing and direction manage to paint her in the audience’s minds with her blue dress and tall figure, something no staged element could achieve. However, it is frustrating that despite the expectations of a life-changing event, the moment itself remains unfussy and the peak feelings of the show’s arc aren’t quite there yet.
The overall rhythm remains flat in that sense, both within the narrative structure and the characters’ emotional state. The narration would benefit from energy shifts to get audiences more on board. There is an exception, however. The most powerful scene comes as the three characters, who never address each other, pull their seats together as if to watch the telly and lock their narrations together, grounding them through that life-changing news segment. At that moment, we see a bigoted father’s reaction in front of the telly right before a timely blackout, which poignantly carries the impact of that visit to the HIV/AIDS unit. Subtle but spot-on lighting and audio designs enhance moments like this throughout the story, like the TV glow on the performers’ faces as they reach this critical point.
The play feels deeply relevant in these times of people facing the ongoing aftermath of a global pandemic and probably already forgetting lessons of empathy, understanding and well-being needs. Along with The National HIV Story Trust (NHST), Gosling’s Moment of Grace helps to keep history alive, and remember just how far away moments of grace and connection may go to battle fear and ignorance.
Moment of Grace runs through 16 July.
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