DV8: To Be Straight with You @ National Theatre, London

cast list
Ankur Bahl, Dan Canham, Seke Chimutengwende, Ermira Goro, Hannes Langolf, Coral Messam, Paradigmz, Rafael Pardillo, Ira Mandela Siobhan

directed by
Lloyd Newson
DV8 have received huge admiration for their unique brand of innovative physical theatre since the company was formed 22 years ago.

Their new show a compelling condemnation of homophobia and other forms of intolerance involves much more text than usual but still has the impact of a powerful body punch.

With the exception of Verbatim, DV8s previous shows have relied on physical expression for their dramatic content, but To Be Straight with You is based around the testimonies of real people interviewed about their experiences of homophobia both victims and perpetrators.

The result is an intoxicating cocktail of verbatim theatre and dance theatre, enhanced by a sophisticated mix of audio-visual effects.
Artistic Director Lloyd Newson was inspired to create the piece by the continuing persecution of gay people around the world, often justified by religion, especially the more extreme forms of Islam and Christianity. Even today homosexuality is illegal in over 80 countries, with the death penalty existing in seven of them. Using the findings of a full-time researcher, Newson has concocted a kaleidoscope of multiple views with various scenarios which show how homophobia links into differing religious, racial and cultural backgrounds.

There are many memorable sequences of people standing up for their sexuality. A gay DJ in a booth plays a reggae song with homophobic lyrics by a Jamaican toasting star, to which two shadowy men dance together subversively. A teenager with a skipping rope tells how his father and brother beat him up when he came out of the closet. A woman refuses to renounce her lesbian relationship even when a man violently thrusts her up against a wall.

But there are also scenes showing contradictory viewpoints. A British Asian man, married with children, cannot repress his sexuality when dancing and has an affair with another gay family man he meets in a club. A gay Christian fundamentalist in denial tries to convert to heterosexuality because of his beliefs, while a halo and wings are drawn around him. A man goes to prison after carrying out a queer bashing but afterwards embraces his own homosexuality.

Although there is an impressively diverse range of perspectives on show, of course the overall message against bigotry is clear: live and let live. Sometimes the points are over-emphasized, and, it has to be said, this is probably preaching to the converted anyway. One flaw in the work is the relatively weak representation of female experience, with only two of the nine performers being women, while the lack of an overarching narrative leads to a somewhat fragmented structure.

Nonetheless, this is a dynamic production which always holds the attention. The performers not only dance beautifully but also speak the words of the interviewees (and sometimes mime their recorded voices) with genuine understated emotion. Uri Omis design, featuring a graffiti-strewn wall and slogan-filled blackboard, is supported by the entrancing projections of video artists Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler and dramatic lighting effects from Beky Stoddart, while Adam Hoopers sound design and John Averys electronic score add much to the ambience.

But the high-tech nature of the show does not undermine its essential purpose, which is to present individuals true stories of suffering, pride, courage and self-expression, demonstrating that gay rights are an integral part of human rights in a free society.

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