Reviews Manchester Published 30 April 2015

The Rolling Stone

Royal Exchange

A lifted imprint.

James Varney

All scenes, characters and events are fictional.

In this play the theatre is a crucible /is a church /is a sort of bowl in which you might stir a community /is Uganda. The characters are religious /gay /family-oriented /proud /shamed /Ugandan /Northern Irish /not British /not white.

We are in the round /an audience /the congregation / a community.

Upon entering, my mate joked ‘but where’s the fourth wall?’

This production plays with environment. Theatre’s capacity for charging a space and a gathering of people is fully exploited. The flyer talks of ‘lovers at odds with their society’ and here the space is enclosing, the Ugandan characters are captive and never leave the arena of the performance. Society forms and governs this church-theatre/courtroom of a setting. And today’s sermon is on Kuchu /homosexuals.

Multiple times, the cast sing gospel together, the effect becoming hypnotic, audience members began clapping along – the couple sat next to me started singing themselves. During the Pastor’s sermons, audience members are addressed directly. We are his congregation. There is a power in the song, in the sermon, our environment drags us into complicity, we react to this experience, we belong to this experience and the play takes ownership of our presence.

The play negotiates these politics of society, exclusion and otherness. Kuchu are an abomination, Dembe and Sam are homosexual lovers, Dembe’s brother is the local pastor.

Family, love and faith are the forces that work this play, and they tear against each other until the options for survival run out. The narrative creates captives of its inhabitants – the power of those three forces, with religion at their bleeding core, allow no escape. None of the Ugandans abandon their faith, Kuchu or otherwise. The only character free to leave and re-enter the space is the sceptic, not black, not Ugandan, Northern Irish Sam.

My mate joked ‘but where’s the fourth wall?’ and there was never any want of one.

There was a recurrent theme of the horror of things unseen: characters stared aghast out of the space at empty rooms /mobs. There was a separation between the characters and the world and events to which they react. Private actions are made public on the front pages of newspapers, and public atrocities are covered up or accepted.

Within the frame of all this culture of exclusion and otherness, the presence of the sole European character screams at our separation, as a Manchester Audience: because outside the space is The Real World /because there are parts of that world we do not see and do not seek out /because this is a lifted imprint of a real framework of power

/because all scenes characters and events are fictional but we needed to be told that to be sure.

I’ve come to terms with the ending: because it broke the illusion of The Play /because it made us realise where we were /because The Play just ended /because upon leaving we were handed a flyer telling us about David Kato.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

The Rolling Stone Show Info

Directed by Ellen McDougall

Written by Chris Urch



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