To Be Straight With You

Conceived and directed by Lloyd Newson
DV8
Part of the Dancing the World festival Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring
(2008)

Production photo

To Be Straight With You, a work which deals with tolerance and intolerance, culture, religion and sexual orientation, is an unusual fusion of DV8's usual physical style and verbatim theatre. But if the latter puts you in mind of Sir David Hare, of the Tricycle's productions like The Colour of Justice, of Talking to Terrorists or even the recent Motherland by the Northumbria Live Academy at Live Theatre, then think again, for this is an entirely new approach.

What Lloyd Newson has done is to take a series of conversations recorded by reseacher Anshu Rastogi (including a series of vox pop interviews in the streets of London) and create, with the help of the company, the choreography around them. The words are sometimes spoken by the performers, sometimes mimed by them to a recording of their own voices, and sometimes simply used as a soundtrack.

The piece begins with the general, almost a scene-setting, with the spoken (or sung) words projected onto a series of gauzes, and gradually moves into the particular, telling individual stories.

It is relentless. The point is hammered home again and again, leaving the audience stunned and reeling at the end, so much so that the applause began tentatively, only swelling to cheers and a standing ovation from a large number of audience members when the initial shock (for that is, I think, the right word) has worn off somewhat.

This is not to say that there is unremitting gloom and doom. There is lightness and even occasional touches of humour (including an incredible display of perfectly controlled, complex skipping which accompanies a harrowing tale), as well as impressive technical effects.

What we are left with is a kaleidoscope of homophobic attitudes encouraged (and often led) by Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and their effects on people, from the public hanging of two homosexual teenagers in Iran (about which we are told) to the small but significant stories of individuals of all communities in this country, told in their own words - a litany of fear and persecution.

It could - and no doubt in some quarters will - be dismissed as agit prop and there is more than an element of truth in the accusation, but that doesn't make what the piece says any less truthful nor the piece itself any less powerful. And powerful it is - a stunning piece of theatre.

At Northern Stage until 10th May, then touring to Coventry, Leeds, Zürich and Salford (ending on 28th June). In the autumn the piece has an international tour, with a spell at the National Theatre from 30th October to 9th November.

Allison Vale reviewed this production in Cardiff and Howard Loxton also reviewed it at the National Theatre

Reviewer: Peter Lathan