The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, which was christened the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill by the western media, was the inspiration for this play, which is set in the East African country. The act was deemed invalid, but the penalties for homosexuality are still harsh: up to 14 years in jail. In the absence of the death sentence, the government instituted a new law which compels people to out anyone that they believe is gay. The local Rolling Stone newspaper publishes names and addresses of people suspected of being gay, which leads to their banishment, or worse.
These circumstances make life difficult for Dembe and Sam. The two men are in love, but you know that this is not going to be an easy path for them. Dembe’s brother Joe has just become a pastor, he has a responsibility to his congregation as well as his family, so Joe condemns the men revealed in the local media to be gay, unaware that his own brother is gay.
This is an easy play to love, but a difficult one to finish watching, as there is always a sense that time is running out for Dembe, played with captivating presence by Elijah Williams. He is an intoxicating mix of boy-man, whose vulnerability walks hand in hand with his self-assurance. He is shaken though by the demands of his faith, when his life with Sam becomes untenable.
Damon Manns plays Sam, the edgy doctor whose mixed heritage is another factor in his ‘otherness’ – as if being gay in Uganda wasn’t enough. Sam’s father is Irish so he has benefited from a western education, which means he has an escape if he really needs it, unlike the others.
Zufi Emerson as sister Wummie also has a playful side like her brother but is more of a realist than Dembe. Her lot in life was determined from birth: as a girl, she is denied the education that Dembe is allowed, with funds being limited. Emerson’s strident approach flames when Wummie learns about Dembe and Sam, but she is still fiercely protective of her brother. Mandela Mathia as Joe is a commanding presence as the de facto head of his family, in the absence of their parents, who are both dead. Unfortunately all of the halleluiahs in the world are not going to drown out the noise threatening to shake this family.
Compelling acting from all reveal this play as a powerful statement in the LGBT struggle. Chris Urch’s story is filled with humour and tender affection, he also acknowledged a debt to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, with the play’s witch hunt reminiscent of the Miller classic. The time for action is now, so don’t miss this riveting play, with its timely reminder that all people deserve to live their true lives, without fear of punishment.
The Rolling Stone is presented by Outhouse Theatre Co and the Seymour Centre and on until 21 July, for more information and tickets see: https://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-rolling-stone/
Featuring: Mandela Mathia, Damon Manns, ElijahWilliams, Nancy Denis, Henrietta Amevor and Zufi Emerson.
Creative/Tech Team: Chris Urch (writer), Adam Cook (director), Jeremy Waters/Outhouse Theatre Co (producer), Isabel Hudson (set design), Sian James-Holland (lighting design), Nate Edmondson (sound composition & design), Felix Johnson (production manager), Hannah Tonks (stage manager) and Marnya Rothe (photographer).