“Toxic is a beautiful reminder to us all to live life with pride”.
Toxic is the semi autobiographical play written by ‘Its A Sin’ star Nathaniel J Hall telling his story of how we fall in love, how it doesn’t always go to plan and that’s putting it mildly. The play is receiving its debut outing at HOME Theatre, Manchester ahead of a U.K. tour next year.
Staring the writer and creative lead Nathaniel J Hall as ‘The Playwright’ and Josh-Susan Enright as ‘The Performer,’ Toxic is billed as not just their story but a story for everyone and puts the spotlight on gay shame, trauma bonds and stigma. Hall describes it as ‘a love letter to all his exes and himself’ and we are all invited to experience this rollercoaster 80 minute multi-layered piece of theatre.
Upon reading the synopsis of the show, seeing the many challenging and disturbing themes the show addresses you’d expect this play to be a no hold barred, straight talking play. It certainly is and deals with the themes sensitively however Toxic is scattered with a plethora of comedy and each scene provides the right amount of contrast differentiating from the serious subject matter to light hearted jovial moments.
As the play opens you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a stand up comedy show. Both actors addressed the audience directly telling us what this show isn’t. It isn’t a play about gay shame, it isn’t a play with Britney Spears references and it is definitely not a play with the Macarena. Which of course turns out to be layered throughout the show including a fabulous voguing Macarena you have never seen before.
As the title of the show may suggest Toxic isn’t just a metaphor for gay culture and stereotyping, it’s also one of the most recognisable songs by LGBTQ+ icon Spears who is name checked and referenced throughout from a house mix of the famous song as we entered the theatre, referencing the queer warehouse party our characters meet, to the innocuous offer on a hook up app of being ‘a slave for you’. Audience members who are members of the queer community may also enjoy the cult classic movie Mean Girls reference or the nod to Britney’s long time media billed enemy Christina Aguilera.
Hall has developed this play for two years and now it has been unleashed to the world he should be so proud of his work. Appearing tentatively and nervous at times, as is natural with the play being partly based around his life, he performed with a passion that only a person through a lived experience could. Enright complimented Hall’s storytelling and they performed with confidence and empathy.
It’s recommended that audience members read the trigger warnings as some may find it distressing and we are informed early on that it’s ok to take a break if needed reminding us that there is strength in knowing our limits. Drug abuse, domestic abuse, HIV and homophobia are just a few of the difficult subject matters covered. Developed in partnership with several leading charities such as The George Trust and We Are Survivors the challenging themes are explored well however lack awareness, to those unfamiliar, due to the 80 minute runtime. The demise of the characters relationship would be more impactful to the audience if some of the themes were given more depth. However, the collaboration between award winning LGBTQ+ company Dibby Theatre and HOME is the perfect partnership to produce contemporary theatre that sparks conversations and discussion.
Toxic’s creative team have delivered an inspiring production with engaging storytelling. Tracey Gibbs impressive lighting represented the non-binary community gloriously adorning the stage in yellow and pink whilst an impactful large winding string neon light lit up across the exposed brick stage during scene changes. The pumping original soundtrack by composer SHAR added scale to this intimate production. Spoken word was used effectively and contemporary movement by both actors signified complexity in this clever, well thought out piece of theatre.
Toxic is a beautiful reminder to us all to live life with pride. Stripped back from the labels and the stigma we are all unique with a story to tell. Toxic leaves us with the question ‘Well what now?’ Buy a ticket and find out for yourself.
This show was reviewed on the 19th October 2023. Toxic runs at Home Manchester until the 28th October 2023. Tickets available here: Toxic - HOME (homemcr.org)
Review written by Jordan Potts