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Posts Tagged ‘Ellen McDougall’

This is the fourth and last of my late February Shakespeare binge, in the lovely candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.

It started well with full candlelight, period settings, in period dress (though with what seemed like joke ruffs and codpieces). My heart sank when all of the candles were extinguished for the first scene, each character illuminating himself with a single candle lamp. For the rest of the evening the candlepower changed frequently and I have to admit rather effectively. 

Ellen McDougal’s Big Idea (every director has to have one, it seems) is to change Cassio into a woman, Michelle Cassio to be precise. This made for some interesting sexual connotations. Having Othello & Desdemona’s bed on stage throughout was a bit distracting and took something away from the scenes elsewhere. I liked the music until it turned a bit too contemporary lyrically. The post-death ending was gimmicky and crass.

I admired Kurt Egyiawan’s Othello, though he didn’t die too well, and Natalie Klamar’s Desdemona too, but I thought Sam Spruell too flippant and nowhere near malevolent and machiavellian enough for Iago.

There was much to enjoy, but enough to irritate too, and it left me feeling it could have been a lot better.

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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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