People Like Us

Fri 3rd – Sat 18th August 2012


Hannah Buckley

at 10:17 on 4th Aug 2012



When I read the blurb for ‘People Like Us’, I thought I was getting myself into a lovey-dovey soppy story. The play however was much more than this. I would disagree with how it is described, for rather than a romantic story it tells us of Simon Harper (played by Scott Cocks) coping with being diagnosed as HIV positive, and how it affects those close to him - his mother, Anne (Alexandra Nash) and girlfriend Stacey Thompson (Cherise Sullivan). Written by Ray Pinch, the play shows how such a life-changing event affects and changes such relationships.

Anyone who has ever been seriously ill, or experienced someone close to them be very ill, can really relate to this play. I had tears streaming down my face at the end, and from the sniffs in the audience I could tell I was not the only one. I don’t want to put people off in thinking that it is just a play that will depress you, for it was much more than that. It shows Simon and Stacey fighting to keep their relationship going in hard times, and the great chemistry between them makes it truly believable. Sullivan herself is a phenomenal actress. She emphasises the difficulties of a partner who has to stay strong, but in such a nuanced way that works brilliantly.

The mother and son relationship starts as non-existent, and the coldness of Nash’s character adds tragedy to the play. Sharon, played by Amel Elgalal, adds another dimension: through her, we see the history of how Simon becomes ill. It is written so subtly that it didn’t feel like the play jumped back and forth, but it helped the audience to comprehend what was going on.

Although there were a few glitches in the play in the form of bad timings and a couple of trip-ups on words, the atmosphere was so amazing that these became trivial things. I would say that the nurse Harry (Kyle Frank) often had his back to the audience, making it hard to hear what he was saying, but this is something that could easily be altered for future performances.

The play was, in a word, intense. Yet it was so different from what a lot of the Fringe has to offer that it is well worth going to see. Although the subject matter may be sad, the storyline is beautiful. Well-written and strongly performed, the show leaves you with an optimistic attitude to deal with whatever comes your way.


Oliver Arnoldi

at 11:11 on 4th Aug 2012



Waiting for a play to begin that deals explicitly with a fatal, degenerative disease can easily provoke a viewer to feel very apprehensive. Not necessarily because it contains material that audiences do not want to see, but because creating an effective piece of drama out of it is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in theatre.

With this in mind, it can only be said that ‘People Like Us’ is a triumph. Set in a hospital ward, and revolving around the twenty-nine year old Simon who lies centre-stage in a bed that will prove to be the first and last place the audience see him, it is difficult to know how to initially respond to what frames the plot. Witnessing Simon being diagnosed with HIV is brutal, but for the next hour the emotional implications of this diagnosis on his relationship with his girlfriend (Stacey), mother (Anne) and seemingly imagined former lover (Sharon) almost pales in comparison to the primary realisation that Simon will die before his thirtieth birthday.

This said, pulling off a piece like this in a way that does either become overly intense or desperately mawkish is a challenge. Savage Theatre manages to tread this line carefully through a series of nuanced performances that produces a very naturalistic portrait of, what is, an overwhelming journey towards death. Cherise Sullivan as Stacey is the stand-out lead, tremendously balancing the burdens of trying to comfort Simon whilst dealing with her own complications (something which is directed commendably by Ray Pinch, blending intermittent internal monologues of Stacey with the static scene of the hospital bed). However, it is as an ensemble that the show is strongest, downplaying the need for consistently emotional solo performances and proving the point that the most acute moments of grief are often in what is left unseen and unsaid.

But a realisation that also comes to bear as ‘People Like Us’ endures is that this a play as much about uniting people as it is a conventional tragedy. HIV may be the barrier between Stacey and Simon, but is also the eventual tie between the pair and Simon’s mother Anne.

The show does not tip-toe around its subject matter and as a result is as refreshing as it is moving. ‘People Like Us’ is one to watch, think about, and a play that will be sure to linger in the mind for the rest of the Fringe.


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