Toxic: A play about gay shame comes to HOME Manchester on 18 October – and is a compelling and unmissable piece of theatre from accomplished actor, producer, writer, theatre-maker and activist Nathaniel Hall.
Hall is also the artistic director of Dibby Theatre - the award-winning, Manchester-based LGBTQ+ theatre company. Dibby are the company behind Hall’s second extremely hard-hitting production, dealing with everyday realities for many members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Toxic is a thoughtful – but often uncomfortable semi-autobiographical show that will be performed by Hall and fellow actor Josh-Susan Enright - who has also been closely involved in the script’s development.
Set in a Manchester club in 2016, the two protagonists fuse a bond that might appear cursed from the outset: Hall’s character is HIV+ and drowning in shame. The resulting rollercoaster of emotions explore complex subject areas, while at the same time, deploying liberal amounts of humour as a much-needed coping mechanism.
Hall is clear when I speak with him: “Don’t all of us try to cope with trauma with humour and laughter?
“With this play I’m also trying to celebrate the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community and appealing for more progress in creating safer environments for everyone.”
The artist’s recent involvement in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship adds gravitas to the themes of internalised homophobia, HIV stigma and toxic masculinity on gay men’s relationships.
And Hall’s extensive research is also compelling: “We [the LGBTQ+ community] face higher rates of depression, anxiety, domestic abuse and drug use - and these issues are not our fault, it’s the fall-out from growing up in a profoundly heterosexist society.
“1 in 4 gay people will experience domestic violence after the age of 16 too.
“Gay people face higher rates of depression, anxiety, domestic abuse, and drug use. We need to talk about support and compassion for ourselves and others. We should embrace our resilience as a community.”
And is Toxic an example of ‘revenge art’?
“It isn’t about seeking revenge on my ex. I hope he’s happy. It’s a fictional story that aims to compassionately examine the dynamics in relationships like ours. It’s about trying to understand what we do to survive.”
The production also provides a musical stage for North-West Beat Producer SHAR, together with audio-visual projections by Dede, who lots of us know as a resident visual mixer at the White Hotel.
Hall is aware the Toxic subject matter might not be a great-sell: “Who wants to go to the theatre and be reminded about how shitty life can be for themselves? But there’s lots of men who’ve messaged me saying they are trapped in a cycle of hook-ups, drugs and toxic relationships, just like I was. And straight men get sad too. And drugs and alcohol aren’t a uniquely gay – or male – problem.
“But I’m reminded that there is always hope. Even in the darkest of places. And hopefully Toxic will leave audiences feeling that too?”
Toxic is at HOME Manchester from 18 – 28 October. Tickets and Info