As we gear up for another fundraising Fringe at the Pleasance, we’re delighted that Glasgow-based playwright Darren Hardie has offered us his support.
Darren is preparing for his Fringe debut, as the writer of Fronting – a play about coming to terms with an HIV diagnosis.
We met up with Darren to hear more about the show and why he’s supporting Waverley Care…
You’re coming to the Fringe with your play Fronting. Can you tell us what it’s about?
The play revolves around the main character, David, and takes place about nine months after he was diagnosed with HIV. In many ways, he’s still coming to terms with what that means for him.
On a night out, he pulls a boy, Will. It’s the first time he’s hooked up with someone since his diagnosis and that leads him to explore all of the feelings that he had put on hold, including his relationship with his ex, Michael.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to tackle the subject of HIV diagnosis?
It was something very personal to me. I was diagnosed with HIV in September 2015 and for a while after, I was just really going through the motions.
During that time, just like David, I wanted to shut down and isolate myself. I didn’t want to think about the support that was available from charities like Waverley Care or Terrence Higgins – it was like accepting support would mean I was interacting with the fact I had this diagnosis and I wasn’t ready for that.
Thankfully the treatment is there that means HIV can be managed, but there are so many other layers to living with the condition.
You’re always comparing it to the initial epidemic and because people suffered so much, it can be difficult to talk about the upset a diagnosis can cause today. You feel like your experience is nothing compared to what our community went through in the eighties and nineties.
Obviously there’s a tendency to look back with rose tinted specs about the community coming together in support of these men. You can’t ignore the prejudice that existed, and can still exist, within the scene towards positive men, but there was undeniably a sense of solidarity to some extent.
What’s interesting now is that the sense of community in the gay scene seems to have lessened, and the experience of living with HIV now is very different. This was something that Fronting allowed me to explore.
Do you think the experience David has in the story differs from the public’s perception of what it means to live with HIV in 2018?
Definitely, when we’re out promoting the show, we come across some of the prejudice and stigma that still surrounds living with HIV.
People often ask me if David will die and I can tell them he doesn’t. It’s incredible that the massive improvements and developments in HIV treatment have gone by broadly unnoticed.
In the play, David is physically fine. He’s young, he’s out drinking and brings a guy back to his flat. People don’t expect him to have HIV. That’s kinda what we explore in the play.
If audiences were to take one message or idea away from Fronting, what would you want it to be?
There’s no good or bad way to get HIV. It’s not a moral virus. This strange morality around HIV is embedded into us so that when you’re diagnosed, you wonder if you deserve it.
It’s silly but it’s also very harmful and I hope people walk away realising that David’s ex, Michael, is as undeserving of his diagnosis as David.
What made you decide to support Waverley Care during your run at the Fringe?
It’s such a wonderful charity which does amazing outreach work and is always really creative in its fundraising approaches. It’s also got that long-running partnership with Pleasance [where Fronting is being performed] so it just made complete sense to support you guys.
You’ve been touring the show at venues and festivals across the UK. What has been the response from audiences?
People have been so supportive. It is a bit glib to say this but people tell me they’ve really connected with it, which is such a wonderful thing to hear.
Is there a performance that sticks in the memory?
On the debut night in Glasgow, in addition to staging the play, we had a raffle to raise some additional funds. Given it was a night dedicated to safer sex, one of the prizes was a year’s supply of condoms which, of course, my aunt won! Nothing causes hilarity quite like the MC giving his aunt dozens of strawberry condoms.
You’ve got a 26 show run at the Pleasance – how are you feeling about it?
Do you know that feeling when you wake up after a big night and you have the dreaded fear? I feel like I’m living that as a constant state at the moment!
What gets me through is my exceptional cast and crew, who I know are going to pull it out the bag, every day. We’re all living together so if we don’t kill each other by the final performance, I’d call that a success!
While you’re at the Fringe, are there any other shows you’re looking forward to seeing?
We’re excited to see some of the other excellent theatre that will be on at the Fringe, especially LGBT+ shows. We saw Gypsy Queen before and it’s excellent so I’d recommend seeing that!
Obviously comedy is such a big part of the Fringe – last year I thought Ed Night was amazing, so I’m really keen to see his new show.
What’s next for Fronting?
The Fringe was our initial big goal so we’ll be taking a little rest after it. But we’re definitely interested in delivering Fronting to new audiences after we’ve had a wee sleep.
Fronting by Darren Hardie is on 1-13 August and 15-27 August at the Pleasance Courtyard’s Attic venue as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Performances daily at 12:45pm followed by a collection for Waverley Care. For more info visit the Pleasance site.
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