To Be Straight With You
DV8 Physical Theatre
Choreographer Lloyd Newson and his DV8 dance and physical theatre company here present an essentially text-based show that draws its material from interviews and first person reports from those who speak out against homosexuality and those who are the victims of such homophobic abuse. DV8 have created a body of work that has tackled controversial, almost taboo topics and here Newson has wanted to put over hard facts that cannot be precisely conveyed in dance.
It is a stark and demanding show that begins with a Rastaman denouncing homosexuals while derogatory names and comments are chalked upon a wall at the rear of the stage. It is in your face and doubly shocking because you have to work hard to understand the accent and the vocabulary, but that is just a taste with worse to come. A born-again Christian takes up the denunciation and that is followed by a survey of the legal situation throughout the world regarding homosexuality. The spirit begins to fail, are we in for an evening of being hectored and lectured, though the lecture is enlivened by being delivered by a man who seems to be inside a globe, appearing to move it from within to match the facts he delivers - just one of the clever pieces of projection the production uses. Those facts are frightening: 85 countries where homosexuality is still criminalised, countries where it carries the death penalty, countries where conviction means long terms of imprisonment, countries 85% of which are former British colonies with laws that reflect one we established. Then there are those where if not actually criminal the power of the religion authority - the Catholic Church especially - leads to ostracism and persecution.
Then comes the infamous Rude Boy 'Boom Bye Bye' with its incitement to murder, key lines from its lyrics projected so that they read both on the gauze that covers the front of the stage and on the scene behind; 'Shoot di batty boy' and 'Burn him up bad like an old tire wheel.' You didn't have to be homosexual yourself to have felt threatened.
For here on you were no longer being harangued, lectured or threatened but drawn in to share the emotion of the trapped and persecuted as individual experiences were recounted. their own. Now too the dance element of the show comes much more to the fore, not that the performers so far been static, but evidence is balanced or offset by some highly original choreography that counterpoints rather than illustrates the text. A 70-year old Israeli woman spins around the stage as she looks back on life; a line of dancers disguise themselves under horses' heads; a Nigerian pastor describes the lives he has lead, as the panels of a cartoon strip that illustrate them appear around him; a Muslim teenager performs an amazing skipping feat while telling how he was chased and knifed by his own father (a virtuoso performance by Ankul Bahl that made the first night's traumatised audience break into applause); a girl from Zimbabwe is abused and manhandled as she describes how a lesbian friend was raped with a beer bottle; an Iraqi doctor, seeking asylum, describes how he was kicked and beaten while his lover was dragged off, tortured and killed. A Black DJ ironically turns the tables by playing anti-gay music for gay men to dance to, the music is so danceable and two Pakistani lovers, both conventionally married, dance a captivating bharatanatyam style duet duplicating each other's action, unable to resist the music as they are unable to resist their attraction to each other.
There is Iris Robinson, wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister, claiming to condemn violence against homosexuals while repeatedly calling them an abomination; there is Peter Tachell persisting in making a stand against discrimination and abuse despite continuing attacks and death threats; there is a gay policeman describing how he copes within the force and how they have been instructed to hide their orientation when operating in Muslim communities. This is the world gay men and women have to live in as revealed in 85 different interviews all crafted into fewer than that number of minutes with enormous impact.
It is set and lit by Uri Omi and Beky Stoddard to create a chiaroscuro world where secret assignations and brutal murder can take place in the shadows, animated by videos by Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler and brilliantly performed by Ankur Bahl, Dan Canham, Seke Chimutengwende, Ermira Goro, Hannes Lannes Langolf, Coral Messam, Paradigmz, Rafael Pardillo and Ira Mandela Siobhan. Director Newson shares his choreographic credit with his company and the text material was assembled by researcher Anshu Rastogi who, with Leila Darwish, conducted the vox pop interviews. Togther they have created a piece of didactic theatre that constantly engages by its theatricality while packing an enormous punch in delivering information that must make us question a society where we are busy protesting the rights of those who would exile or at worst execute those whose sexuality does not conform to their fundamentalist thinking, whether Muslim or Christian, and fear for our own situation as well as for those in other lands for, as one Muslim cleric warns, we could one day find ourselves under Shia law. The world's great religions all, including Islam and Christianity, teach tolerance and love; why do some of their believers preach hate?
At the Lyttleton until 15th November and then at the Dansens Hus, Stockholm 20th-22nd November
Reviewer: Howard Loxton