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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Urch’

I saw this play about the treatment of gay people in Uganda at the end of a week when the Anglican church was again pandering to the homophobia of African Anglicans; beat that for good timing. I was very impressed by playwright Chris Urch’s first play Land of My Fathers. This second play more than fulfils that promise; it’s stunning.

The relationship between young doctor Sam and student Dembe is the heart of the play. The problem is they are in Uganda where homosexuality is illegal and vigilantes out those they think are gay and subsequently persecute, even kill, them and ostracise and torment their families. Dembe is from a religious family, close to his twin sister Wummie and elder brother Joe. Their father has recently died and Joe has become pastor of their church. Family friend Mama is like a surrogate mother who has always thought her daughter Naome and Dembe were intended for one another. Sam is from Northern Ireland but has a Ugandan mother, hence his move to Uganda to practice medicine in her homeland.

The outing and persecution of gays begins and this tests relationships and challenges loyalties to family, friends and religion. A family friend is outed and killed and Joe refuses to officiate at his funeral for fear of reprisals. It’s hard to differentiate between attitudes and actions determined by fear and those determined by genuine beliefs and it becomes a complex web of responses to the horrific circumstances these people find themselves in.

Simply staged by Ellen McDougall in the round, the intimacy brings extraordinary audience engagement; you often feel part of the debate, having to resist the temptation to respond yourself. This is largely due to six brilliantly passionate performances. When Sule Rimi as Joe is preaching, you are the congregation and its riveting. In Julian Moore-Cook’s Sam and Fiston Barek’s Dembe’s more intimate moments, the relationship is so believable you feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. Faith Omole has real sibling chemistry with her stage brothers, Faith Alabi is brilliantly convincing as largely mute Naome and Jo Martin has great presence and charisma as Mama. Three of the cast are new since its run in Manchester last April, but on their second performance you’d have thought they’d all been together for a long time. Wonderful performances.

A well written play on an important subject, impeccably staged and superbly performed. What else can you ask for? GO!

 

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Trafalgar Studio II continues to give fringe work a second outing, this time with Theatre 503’s 2013 hit, an excellent debut play by Chris Urch on the unlikely subject of six miners trapped down a mine as Thatcher triumphs for the first time as Tory leader. It’s extraordinary how many laughs you can get from such a situation without in any way detracting from the tragedy; indeed, probably heightening it.

Six miners are trapped after a rock fall. They have to decide to wait or dig. Deputy ‘Chopper’ takes the lead and insists on waiting in the first instance, switching strategy to digging if it becomes too long. The length of the wait stretches plausibility, but it provides the opportunity to explore the men’s lives, motivations and relationships and the characterisations are superb. Old lag Bomber with the driest of humour and naive young Mostyn, mummies boy and the most unlikeliest of miners on his first shift. Brothers Chewy & Curly, as dissimilar as brothers get, bickering but underneath loving. Thoughtful and calm Polish war hero Hovis and Chopper, the deputy in charge – well, initially. At first they cope through loyalty and humorous banter, but as the days without rescue mount up, everything breaks down. It gets ever more claustrophobic and intolerable, as the banter is replaced by argument and division.

The dialogue sparkles with realism and the 1979 setting anchors the piece in recent social history, without trying to score political points. Signe Beckmann’s brilliant set provides an appropriately claustrophobic, grubby environment – they really are on top of one another and the audience there with them. Paul Robinson’s direction squeezes every ounce of tragedy and comedy without being sentimental or disrespectful of the situation. In a fine set of performances, veteran Clive Merrison is superb as Bomber (though we do miss him in the second half) and Kyle Rees is hugely impressive as Curly.

Great to see a debut play in the West End, a rarity indeed. It ends today, so you’d better get your skates on!

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