The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree, Richmond, review: A play of insight, wit and a truly tragic dilemma

In an atmosphere reminiscent of The Crucible the play lets you appreciate the pressures weighing on each character

Paul Taylor
Tuesday 19 January 2016 14:41 GMT
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Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Joe (Sule Rimi) in 'The Rolling Stone'
Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Joe (Sule Rimi) in 'The Rolling Stone' (Manuel Harlan)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Chris Urch's Bruntwood Award-winning play takes it name from the scurrilous Ugandan tabloid that outed gay men (photos and addresses provided) on the front page, with violent repercussions.

Premiered in this taut, splendidly acted production by Ellen McDougall, the piece packs a devastating emotional punch. Pushing beyond issue drama, it explores the impact on both sexual and familial love of a vicious ethos that would like to fling into prison people who fail to report homosexual activity by others.

Fiston Barek's enchantingly playful, almost reckless Dembe has compartmentalised his life. He's at ease in his sealed-off, jokily affectionate rapport with Sam (Julian Moore-Cook), a doctor of mixed Ugandan/Ulster heritage. At home, he's the loyal kid brother of Joe (Sule Rime) who has recently taken over from their late father as pastor. The flock, though, is dwindling and money running out.

Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Naome (Faith Alabi) - Chris Urch
Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Naome (Faith Alabi) - Chris Urch (Chris Urch)

Then, with grotesquely bad timing, the tabloid hate campaign starts. In an atmosphere reminiscent of the witch hunt in The Crucible, Urch's play lets you appreciate the terrible pressures weighing on each of the characters – including the devoted, self-sacrificing sister Wummie (Faith Omole) who has long guessed Dembe's secret.

Ironically laced with songs of praise, this a play of insight, wit, stealthily mounting dread, and a sure of what constitutes a truly tragic dilemma.

To 20th February; 020 8940 3633

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