Lyttelton Theatre, London SE1
Opened 29 October, 2008

Verbatim physical theatre sounds like a paradox, but Lloyd Newson and DV8 succeed in squaring the circle with this stirring, potent 80-minute piece, now at the National Theatre after months of international touring. The words are drawn from 85 interviews and vox pops, representing the 85 countries of the world where homosexuality remains illegal. The actions seem sometimes abstract, portraying only a general mood; sometimes representational, as during a Zimbabwean pastor’s lesbian daughter’s account of the violence she suffered; sometimes brilliantly impressionistic, as when a young gay Muslim from Hull recounts the various ways in which he negotiated his family life whilst the performer agilely rope-skips in ever more intricate ways.
It is difficult and distressing to listen to so much hatred and ignorance. Newson is frank that much of the intolerance is fuelled or at least sanctioned by fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. (Testimony from a gay London police officer recounts that relations with other religions are far less problematic.) We hear, for instance, from a married Muslim who blames a male seducer for turning him into “a gay”, and an interview with Northern Irish M.P., M.L.A. and First Minister’s wife Iris Robinson about the “abomination” of homosexuality.
Yet the piece is not above tendentiousness itself. It reports that some 25% of those 85 countries are former British colonial possessions, implying that British rule may be responsible for institutionalised homophobia; however, since around 35% of the world’s countries were at one point British, that’s actually a better than average score for Britannia. The continuing hostility in much of the Caribbean, and especially in dancehall reggae culture, is illustrated in part by a snatch of Buju Banton’s notorious “Boom Bye Bye”, a song which is now fully 20 years old. The complexity of response is also shown by a British DJ who plays such tracks in gay clubs in a spirit of irony, defiance and reclamation. Beky Stoddart’s lighting design is often breathtakingly clever, as bodies interact with projections in all kinds of ways, but also often simply too dim.
When Nicholas Hytner’s eclecticism first led him to invite DV8 to a run at the NT, with Just For Show in 2005, I was unconvinced. To Be Straight With You, however, fully deserves its place at the centre of the nation’s live cultural conversation.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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