Royal Exchange, Manchester
Receiving its World Premiere at the Exchange, The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch has a short run here before transferring to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It’s a story torn straight from the headlines. In the opening scene, two young men recline beside a lake on their first date – they chat, flirt and eventually kiss. Nothing at all out of the ordinary – except this is Uganda where homosexuality is expressly forbidden and transgressors face life imprisonment and ostracisation. Dembe (Sule Rimi) has fallen in love with young doctor, Sam (Robert Gilbert) who has an Irish father and a Ugandan mother. They both know that their relationship must be kept under wraps – particularly since Dembe’s older brother, Joe has recently been ordained as a church minister for their small community. But the local newspaper, ‘The Rolling Stone’ is always on the lookout for those people it likes to tag as ‘deviants’… and there’s a terrible price to pay if your name appears on their list…
There’s a great play to be written about this subject, but sadly, The Rolling Stone isn’t quite it. Despite excellent acting from the six-strong cast and some rousing acapella singing, the play’s characters are rarely allowed to rise above the two-dimensional; it’s hard to believe that they have another life outside of the story and everything we learn about them, seems designed merely to power the narrative. There are, however, some good scenes along the way. The playful opening hints at depths hidden beneath the surface, even if it never actually uncovers them; Joe’s vitriolic sermon condemning homosexuality makes for uncomfortable viewing and the play ends on a moment of high tension, where we realise the full implications of Dembe’s situation – but I wanted to know so much more about his family relationships and that didn’t really come across.
The Rolling Stone tells an important story, one that deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience and I’m glad that it has been written, (glad too that The Exchange deemed it worthy of production) but this must count only as a partial success. It continues here until the 1st of May.