The Rolling Stone - West Yorkshire Playhouse (On behalf of The Public Reviews)
This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the link can be accessed here.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Keenan
(Accessed from http://www.thepublicreviews.com)
The Rolling Stone, a Royal Exchange Theatre production, comes to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The play begins with harmonious singing by the six member cast which sets the context.
Dembe and Sam are in love and often spend their time together at the lake. The scenario shows them care free and innocent until a comment is made about feeling “watched”, suggesting all is not all well, and their relationship is a lot more complicated than they wish. The setting is in Uganda where being gay is notoriously condemned (and also illegal), forcing Dembe and Sam’s relationship to go underground and be kept a secret.
The title of Chris Urch’s award winning play is taken from a Ugandan tabloid newspaper who are reputed to name and shame men who they believe are gay. The paper refers to them as “Sodomites” and the publishing of such pictures leads to devastating consequences.
Dembe’s family is more the reason why his relationship with Sam must be secretive. His brother becomes a pastor and regularly condemns homosexuality in his church sermons. Disturbingly, suspicions are made about those “missing from the church” and the chilling comments made about the “epidemic rise in homosexuals”. The churches pastors have been the main players in supporting Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, from 2009, and this has created a homophobic and fearful culture in the country.
There are strong and moving performances given from all the cast members. The complex character of Dembe is played very well by Fiston Barek who is torn between what is expected of him by his family and being true to himself. Robert Gilbert’s Sam, whose confidence, wit and charm makes the couple uniquely in love, is what Gilbert successfully carries out. One must admire the Sule Rimi’s powerful Pastor Joe who intensely demands full attention and interaction from his church’s congregation.
The singing and music, under the direction of James Fortune, is harmoniously beautiful and certainly creates the appropriate moods and emotions in each of the scenes, while Dave Norton’s soundscapes build up the tense atmosphere throughout the performance. There are smooth transitions between the scenes with the support of Joanna Scotcher’s simple staging and spacing and Richard Owen’s lighting.
What Dembe and Sam go through is echoed by many in similar situations in countries where homosexuality is still illegal and punishments are enforced. Being gay, however, will always be met with discrimination in the world (whether illegal or legal), as Sam points out to Dembe. Although gay rights have come a long way; it is evident and clear more work still needs to be done in educating and raising awareness particularly in families, especially after seeing Dembe’s family’s loyalties being tested in fearful circumstances.
This production certainly raises more questions than answers, as shown from the characters’ uncertainty at the end of the play. The Rolling Stone is excellently well written and powerfully thought provoking both socially and politically.