HIV+ queer artist Nathaniel Hall tells all as he recalls the first time at York Theatre Royal’s Studio Discoveries

Heart-breaking: Nathaniel Hall in his one-man show First Time at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Pictures: Andrew Perry

DAY three in the Studio Discoveries festival house, and York Theatre Royal’s Visionari community programme group will be presenting Nathaniel Hall’s First Time tomorrow night.

Can you remember your first time? Nathaniel can’t seem to forget his. To be fair, he has had it playing on repeat for the last 15 years, and now he is telling all in his one-man show on tour in North Yorkshire this month.

After playing the VAULT Festival in London, Hall has embarked on his travels, taking in the McCarthy at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre last night, Harrogate Theatre’s Studio Theatre tonight and York Theatre Royal Studio tomorrow as part of Studio Discoveries, a week of new theatre chosen by Visionari.

The party is over, the balloons have all burst and Nathaniel is left living his best queer life: brunching on pills and Googling ancient condoms and human cesspits on a weekday morning…or is he?

“Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” says Nathaniel Hall

After playing the Edinburgh Fringe for four weeks last summer, HIV+ queer artist and theatre-maker Hall takes First Time on the road as he strives to stay positive in a negative world. “Join me as I blow the lid on the secret I’ve been keeping all these years,” he says.

Conceived, written and performed by HIV activist Hall, this humorous but heart-breaking 75-minute autobiographical show is based on his personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter at 16.

“Narratives of HIV often portray people living with the virus as the victim. First Time doesn’t accept this stance,” says Hall. “It not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives.”

First Time takes up Hall’s story after an all-night party, when “he hasn’t been to bed and he hasn’t prepared anything for the show. He’s only had 12 months and a grant from the Arts Council, but he can’t avoid the spotlight anymore and is forced to revisit his troubled past”.

“First Time not only transforms audiences into HIV allies, but also helps them rid toxic shame from their own lives ,” says Nathaniel Hall

His path leads from sharing a stolen chicken and stuffing sandwich with a Will Young lookalike aged 16, through receiving the devastating news aged 17 and heart-breaking scenes devouring pills and powder for breakfast, to a candlelit vigil and finally a surprising ending full of reconciliation, hope…and a houseplant from Mum.

Commissioned by Waterside Arts and Creative industries Trafford and developed with Dibby Theatre, the original production led the Borough of Trafford’s 30th World AIDS Day commemorations in 2018.

Directed by Chris Hoyle and designed by Irene Jade, with music and sound design by Hall, First Time will be staged at 7.45pm at each location. Tickets: Harrogate, 01423 502116 or; York, 01904 623568 or Visionari’s Studio Discoveries festival runs until Saturday. For full details, visit the Theatre Royal website.

Visionari pick six of the best for Studio Discoveries week at York Theatre Royal

Pepper & Honey: opening Visionari’s Studio Discoveries season on February 4

WHAT happens if the audience selects the shows? Find out when York Theatre Royal presents a week of theatre in the Studio chosen by the Visionari community programming group. 

This will be Visionari’s second such season of Studio Discoveries, this one featuring six shows from February 4 to 8.

“What if the story was retold by the woman at its heart? ” asks Debbie Cannon in her version of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight

Pepper & Honey, on February 4 at 11am and 2pm, is a new play from Not Now Collective, told through the baking of Croatian pepper biscuits – known as paprenjaci – that will be baked live in front of the Studio audience as the story of Ana’s preparations to start a new life in the UK unfolds. Babes-in-arms are welcome and biscuits are included.

Debbie Cannon is both writer and performer of Green Knight, on February 5 at 6.30pm, a one-woman version of the medieval poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. “It’s Christmas at Camelot and a monstrous green warrior issues an unwinnable challenge to Arthur’s finest knight. But what if the story was retold by the woman at its heart?” asks Debbie.

One of Picasso’s women in Picasso’s Women on February 5

Picasso’s Women, on February 5 at 8.30pm, looks at Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s life through the voices of his wives, mistresses and muses. The three monologues feature French model Fernande, Russian ballerina Olga and 17-year-old mistress Marie-Therese.

Originally produced for the National Theatre and BBC Radio 3, the women’s stories provide an insight into the influence these women had on Picasso’s life and art.

Nathaniel Hall in First Time: humorous but heart-breaking

After last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe debut, HIV+ theatre-maker and activist Nathaniel Hall is on tour, presenting a humorous but heart-breaking show about growing up with HIV in First Time on February 6 at 7.45pm.

The show is based on Nathaniel’s personal experience of living with HIV after contracting the virus from his first sexual encounter aged only 16. First Time accompanies Hall’s on-going activism to break down the stigma associated with the disease through talks, participatory projects, education and outreach.

York company Cosmic Collective Theatre in Heaven’s Gate

Inspired by true events, Heaven’s Gate, on February 7 at 7.45pm, is an intergalactic new show from Cosmic Collective Theatre that imagines the final hour of four members of a real-life religious UFO group.

The excitement is palpable as they prepare for their graduation into the Kingdom of Heaven but soon the cracks begin to appear. “Whatever you do, don’t say the C-word – ‘Cult’,” says writer, director and performer Joe Feeney, a York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre alumnus, along with fellow cast member Anna Soden.

Preacherman in One Foot In The Rave, the closing show of Visionari’s Studio Discoveries programme

Visionari’s final choice is One Foot In The Rave, on February 8 at 7.45pm. Written and performed by Alexander Rhodes, it follows a disillusioned Jehovah’s Witness as he breaks free from the cult and lands on the ecstasy-fuelled floors of 1990s’ clubland. Shunned by everyone he knows, he is not prepared for what lies ahead.

Looking forward to the season ahead, York Theatre Royal producer Thom Freeth says: “It’s been amazing working with Visionari over the past few months to select and bring together a really impressive line-up of unique Studio shows. The group have chosen shows that will undoubtedly appeal to regular theatregoers and new audiences alike. 

Cyberdog in One Foot In The Rave

“We’re pleased to be showing award-winning work as part of the week, alongside work by an exciting new York company, Cosmic Collective Theatre. Whether you’re out to sample the intensity of Nineties’ clubland, gain an insight into the life of Picasso or just enjoy a complimentary Croatian biscuit, we think you’ll have a fantastic experience in our intimate Studio theatre.”

Tickets for Studio Discoveries shows are on sale on 01904 623568, at or in person from the box office. The price is £10 per show or £8 each if booking for two or more shows.