Eye of a Needle

Chris MacDonald

GutShot Productions

Southwark Playhouse, Little Space

From 27 August 2014 to 20 September 2014

Review by Anita-Marguerite Butler

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Proof is increasingly vexed in our increasingly edited and Photoshopped culture. But what to do when proof depends on one’s word: and where is the ‘evidence’ when that word cannot be voiced?

In Eye of a Needle, actor/writer Chris MacDonald’s masterful debut, the topical issue of seeking asylum is given an eye-opening twist by focussing on gay men and women whose love must remain covert back home for fear of punishment, often by death.

Set in a UK Immigration Detention Centre, creatively imagined and executed by set designer Fly Davis, the fates of four gay asylum seekers interweave. It goes without saying that this is a serious subject but moments of levity—performed with deft comic timing by a superlative cast of five—keeps things nicely balanced.

Events begin with Ekow Quartey’s Mulugo (one of the actor’s three discrete roles) whose colourful descriptions of the joys of sex with men break the ice from the outset. The actor’s main character, Harrison, tasked with proving his sexuality when proof in Jamaica is impossible to garner, is beautifully judged.

Ony Uhiara is stunning as the strong, proud, enigmatic Natale who faces a similar fate if returned to Uganda but who may not be all she seems.

On the administration side, we can’t help but feel sympathy for Stephen Hudson’s Ted, staring middle age in the face and—in the asylum game for too long—being choked by the skin of cynicism he has had to grow over the years.

Nic Jackman, showing great promise in Red Velvet recently, is perfectly cast as rookie Laurence whose early disinterest in his cases develops into something deeper when Natale becomes his client. Laura Cairns excels as Caroline—a legal caseworker trying to balance not caring too much with caring too much about her home situation.

The influence of Katie Payne’s work on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is evident in the actors’ between-scene movements that evoke the office-chaos of papers to be completed, boxes to be ticked, quotas to be maintained, and not enough hours in the day.

Meanwhile, tight direction from Holly Race-Roughan brings the play in at just 90 minutes (with a 20-minute interval) yet allows time for threads to unravel and re-align; and time for us to care about these fictional characters, drawn from the reported experiences of gay/lesbian asylum seekers from sources including Stonewall.

This bold, brave, serious-funny production is unafraid of earthy language, explicit sex references and of showing both sides of the coin: the fate of those seeking asylum, and the onerous task placed on those charged with making life-death decisions over believing in the lives of others. Highly recommended.