Beginning in 1981, over the next decade their lives are changed utterly by the disease, as they are confronted either by a HIV-positive diagnosis; or having to deal with their friends’ diagnoses as their community is being decimated.
Throughout the show there is a pulsating soundtrack of 1980s music – the music of my youth.
It is quite devastating. The sense of fear that permeates the show is palpable. A positive diagnosis in the 1980s was a death sentence. This is coupled with the fact society that was aggressively homophobic at the time – Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 during that decade, banning teachers from giving any positive statements about homosexuality to their pupils. What’s beautiful about it however is the manner in which it shows the community standing up for ourselves in a way that had never previously been seen. We had no choice. We were on our own.
I reached my teenage years in the late 1980s. I remember the absolute terror I felt at that time, because of AIDS. Obviously I was too young and too Limerick to have to deal with the horror of the pandemic, but I was watching from the sideline. At the time homosexuality was illegal in Ireland – until 1993. I read about the direct action groups ACT-UP and Outrage in the pages of The Face magazine in Eason’s bookshop on William Street, on a Saturday afternoon. I use to listen to Boy George; the Communards; Erasure and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and know that they were gay.
I was never going to come out as in my mind that would both make me a criminal and kill me as a result of the inevitable AIDS diagnosis.
‘It’s a sin’ captures the stifling claustrophobia of the time. The images of a generation of young men, dying alone on a hospital ward, because of rejection by their families in both life and death is haunting.
It’s not perfect by any means. The portrayal of the female characters is weak. The character Jill’s purpose is to offer support and assistance to the boys. This is reflective of the huge efforts made by women – both lesbian and straight – during the decade, to help the men. But we don’t even get a clue about whether Jill has a sexual orientation of her own, let alone any type of love life. Ritchie’s mother is another tired old stereotype as she is blamed for her son’s death. That’s not fair.
That criticism aside ‘It’s a sin’ is a gut-wrenching show about a very dark time. Required viewing.