To Be Straight With You
Conceived and directed by Lloyd Newson
Sherman Cymru, Cardiff, and touring
DV8 have made a name for themselves tackling the taboo head-on. To Be Straight With You takes an unflinching look at homophobia, religion, intolerance and injustice across the globe, driven by the fact that same-sex relationships are still criminalised in 85 countries worldwide and that the death penalty for consensual, same-sex intercourse is enforced in seven of those.
This is verbatim theatre: every word spoken on stage is someone's personal testimony. Its grim stuff, but the picture it paints of intolerance and aggressive homophobia in the UK is particularly damning.
Take the young muslim teenager from Hull, skipping over a swirling rope, faster and faster without ever tripping up, as he recalls how he came out to his family and how, soon after, his father knifed him in an alleyway. The immigration lawyer whose body pulls him about, contorting him into unnatural poses as he battles with the law. Or the young daughter of a Zimbabwean pastor, describing the rape of her lesbian partner with a beer bottle.
These, and the many other characters portrayed throughout, are deeply affecting testimonies, all artfully delivered, and all thrown into sharp focus by stunning physicality.
Certainly this is one of most talented ensembles I have seen, with faultless performances from the cast of nine, under Lloyd Newson's inimitable direction & choreography.
One of DV8's hallmarks is their commitment to hi-spec multi media design; in this respect too this production excels. The use of visible text and graphics thrown across the set for emphasis is nothing new, but here, working in harmony with Uri Omi's set, it is taken to a new level, lending the piece an immediacy and a filmic quality which heightens both the production's visual impact and its accessibility.
What has always set DV8's work apart from so much of contemporary dance is that it is strictly issue led. As Newson explains, " I am not interested in making work that does not focus clearly on content. Content, rather than style, drives DV8's work".
The content of To Be Straight With You is masterfully handled. This production packs a powerful political punch, tackling institutional and state-sanctioned intolerance towards sexuality.
Newson rejected a scripted approach early on in the research process, in favour of the authenticity of a verbatim piece. DV8 have fought hard over the years for funding to support extended periods of research and development for their productions. In this case, a full time researcher (Anshu Rastogi) collated first-hand accounts from asylum organisations, human rights groups, youth, religious and political groups as well as bars, clubs and anti-gay protest meetings.
The result is a piece of commanding verbatim theatre which stands as a shocking indictment of the prejudice embedded within too many cultures across the globe, including our own, due in large part to extremist Christian and Islamic communities.
Political theatre can be unreachable, remote, introspective and, dare I say it, pretentious. Arguably, politically motivated contemporary dance can be even more so. But Newson's impeccable development process lends a masterful touch: this is creatively imagined, fully realised theatre which is at once enlightening, shocking, affecting, and enraging. It never stoops to that kind of preachy sermonising which can so often turn an audience off.
Funding an extended period of R&D for this unflinching production was clearly a wise investment. It has a courage and a polished lustre which raised a full house to its feet for a lasting ovation, and which leaves an enduring sense of outrage at the injustice it confronts.
"To Be Straight With You" tours to Oxford, Newcastle, Coventry, Leeds and Salford before embarking on a world tour in the autumn. It returns to the National Theatre, 30 October - 9 November
Reviewer: Allison Vale