Adelaide Fringe 2012
Neil Watkins has wanked more than is healthy, allegedly. One of Ireland’s most exhilarating artists in a remarkable one man show.
This one man show has a long list of quotes from reviews saying how brilliant it is, from all over the place. The situation of a fellow living in his grandfather’s council flat because his family are happier dealing with his medical condition at a distance is not that unusual. Easier to keep the whole family tidy if the members who don’t quite fit are shuffled off somewhere else for a start. In this case it is the HIV that has caused the distraction; or is it more the process of contracting the HIV that has caused the deeper concern?
Neil Watkins speaks plain and tells the tale like it is, from a bitter and bent perspective that gradually shifts from nasty to nice as the story flows. Here is a great insight into the long term reality of HIV in the developed world where people imagine the AIDS crisis is over, or it’s no more than a collection of gay men with a gut filled with life saving pills who will die soon enough.
AIDS and sexuality have always been meshed and mashed up into one idea because HIV is passed through sexual activity; and it has remained with the gays for a couple of decades. Ah yes there have been plenty of female characters who have been HIV positive spotted on stages here and there around the developed world, but it is this character, the battie boy-man with the blood condition who really pops up again and again. Watkins’ version is something of an artist who shifts to New York city and mixes it up with some of the icons of the post-crisis art world. He drops names like each was a sheet of loo paper and maintains his rage by either dabbing his eyes or wiping his arse with them.
I loved listening to his rantings and admired the way he told his story. It is amusing, but it is also deeply sad. The crying out of a man who by rights should be able to exist in a guiltless world of sleaze and love like his heterosexual contemporaries, who must constantly deal with levels of self hatred others simply couldn’t appreciate or be likely to deal with. His self loathing becomes a type of loving and his acceptance of the crunch he’s under is tragic. What else can he do but take his pills and try to maintain the rage?
Sexual abuse doesn’t get a lot of airing on the stage when it’s a boy being abused, and when the boy is a somehow willing participant in the ‘abuse’ the water starts to get muddy. The stories of being used on a sexual level ring true, and the aftermath of guild and hurt also seem to touch on a whole range of real life nerves. It takes a lot of courage to act out this material, and yet when it is the history of an individual, the courage is transformed somewhat into a type of blood letting; and ego escaping under the radar, looking for somewhere to off load.
The show is not unlike rough sex. There are moments where one is so involved that the massive chances being taken go unnoticed, the short sharp moments of pain readily blend in with the deep satisfaction of having a laugh and feeling safe and secure, and then when the multiple orgasms start it’s too late to pull out of the contract, so you simply accept the messy outpouring and get ready to tidy up before saying ‘goodbye’ and going about your business.
I doubt anyone will leave the theatre without feeling somewhat changed; even if it is merely a deep seated sense of satisfaction that they are not the same as this man telling his tale. It is complex theatre, extremely well drawn and deserves the high praise it is collecting as it travels around the land. Don’t miss it.