22 January 2016

The Rolling Stone at the Orange Tree Theatre

For the first time in forever I had missed the previous Orange Tree production on the not unreasonable grounds that it was a revival from the previous season and I had seen it then.

Normal service was resumed with The Rolling Stone, a band-new play by Chris Urch about the persecution of gays in present-day Uganda.

For reasons beyond my control that made it a series of three plays in a few days about persecution of groups, these being women, Jews and now gays. There were common themes and I'll return to that.

But first I had to eat and for that I gave the Sun Inn, just around the corner, a try. I had drunk in there many times but had never eaten As expected the menu was limited for vegetarians so I went for the burger and chips which were just fine. The Jack Frost beer was too.

The Rolling Stone was set in modern-day Uganda and showed something of the threats faced by gays there. I guess that might have been news to some people but as a regular listener to Africa Today on BBC World Service it was a story that I had heard.

Uganda was something of a basket-case at the time, despite the appearance of peace. Yoweri Museveni had been President since 1986 and was going to some lengths to keep his job, including jailing opposition politicians and journalists with great regularity. The gays had it bad but they were not the only ones.

The story was of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality in a community where his brother was trying to prove his worth as a pastor having just gained the position with the help of a local leader. There were lots of tensions in the community with everybody looking carefully over their shoulders, even the local leader.

And that was the common theme across the three plays, fear and surveillance. These were unpleasant places and times to live and that set the tomes for the play. All three plays got me more worried about our own society where it is increasingly common to blame groups like migrants and "benefit scroungers" for all our problems.

There was something of a seen it all before feeling to the first half of The Rolling Stone and I went out at the interval satisfied but not impressed.

The second half was a different and better matter.

Having set the scene rather slowly in the first half the second half picked up the pace and the tension. Various things came to a head putting the pastor in the centre of the controversy and leading him to make a powerful play-defining speech that lifted a simple story into something taught and emotional.

The Rolling Stone grew into my sort of play and I hope that there are more like that to come at the Orange Tree.

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