Good Causes

Tommy’s show about AIDS crisis is a work of heart

Thomas ‘Tommy’ Small was still at primary school in the 1980s when AIDS began to make headlines. He remembers being frightened by suggestions – common in some sections of the media back then – that the virus only infected gay men.

Tommy, who grew up in Dundee, said, “I was about 9 or 10 and knew I had an attraction to other boys, that I was gay. So I kind of grew up with the thought that this was what was going to happen to me.”

Now, at the age of 46, Tommy – an award-winning choreographer – has created a dance-theatre show exploring the escapism of queer nightlife during the 80s AIDS crisis. Smalltown Boys, which is supported by The National Lottery and opens in Dundee on 8th August 2023, features 8 dancers moving to 80s hits including Small Town Boy, the Bronski Beat hit after which the show is named.

For Tommy, who first had the idea for the show 10 years ago, the subject matter feels close to home. He said, “My generation, who came just after the crisis, grew up with issues around safe sex and trying to survive as a community. Myself and quite a few of my friends who were on the scene in the early 90s, learned everything about safe sex from bars, clubs and going out and meeting people. We were embraced by a community that had lived through something profound.

“Although I was the next generation, my contact and time with people who lived through it [the AIDS crisis] really shaped who I am as a person.”

Tommy and the show’s producer, Shaper/Caper, have gone to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of Smalltown Boys. They have consulted the Terrence Higgins Trust – the UK's leading HIV and sexual health charity – and listened to an archive of audio recordings made by people living with AIDS in the 80s and 90s which is held by the British Library.

What message would Tommy hope audiences take away from Smalltown Boys? He said, “When you look at what’s happening with the LGBTQIA+ community now we see the same kind of things that were happening in the 80s. Back then it was gay men [who were stigmatised] nowaways it’s trans and non-binary people. We’re hoping that people see the show and don’t think ‘Oh this is a terrible, dreadful thing that happened in our past’, but realise [that stigmatisation of the queer community is] something that’s happening right now.

“What I’m hoping to create is an awareness about finding understanding, kindness and empathy for other people as human beings.”

24th July 2023

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