Posts Tagged ‘Fiston Barek’

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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More of a lot of hot air than a play, which yet again shows that the National Theatre fails to identify good new drama. It takes important themes and cheapens them without adding anything worthwhile to the debate.

It starts at a church conference in Africa where the delegates are hopelessly seeking to resolve their differences over homosexuality. A hypocritical indiscretion by one of the delegates unravels and takes us into a personal story played out as melodrama. Each of the four subsequent scenes consists of histrionic arguments which go nowhere.

I felt sorry for what is clearly a good ensemble (and with 12 of them, a size no fringe theatre could afford) landed with such material, particularly for Fiston Barek making an auspicious professional stage debut. No expense has been spared on the set, which takes us from conference room to hotel bedroom to home to workplace to church.

Above all, it makes me angry that the National Theatre’s new play selection process has yet again been found lacking. They stage few enough as it is, but to allow weak playwriting like this to end up with an expensive production on one of their three stages is unforgivable.

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