INTERVIEW: Chris Urch on The Rolling Stone: Homophobia In Uganda
Theatre can evoke many emotions – happiness, sadness, optimism, fear, anger and laughter…. but to be able to combine all of those emotions into one production shows just how powerful theatre can be.
So when playwright, Chris Urch, decided to write a play about love and homophobia in Uganda, he was determined to ensure that the audience were taken on a journey which drew on a range of emotions and the result is a play which tackles the subjects with compassion, realism and in a way which allows the audience to connect with the characters and events portrayed, despite the disparity of the play’s setting and where it is being performed.
The play is about Dembe and Sam, who have been seeing each other for a while. They should be wondering where this is going and when to introduce each other to their families. But they’re gay and this is Uganda. The consequences of their relationship being discovered will be violent and explosive. Especially for Dembe, whose brother goes into the pulpit each week to denounce the evils of one man loving another. The Rolling Stone tells the story of two lovers at odds with their society.
The write of the play, Chris Urch, a Bruntwood Playwriting prize winner caught up with TheGayUK as the play opened its run at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
TGUK – Your new play, The Rolling Stone is a story about love, prejudice and homophobia in Uganda. How does the subject matter of the play resonate with the UK audience?
CU – I’m not going to lie, my play The Rolling Stone is a hard sell. There’s no famous people in it. This is only my second play so my name isn’t of any help. And then there is the subject matter…. The play focuses on a Ugandan family who’s local paper is outing gay men and the repercussions of this are mighty and heartbreaking. The story is fictional but is based on truth. In Uganda it’s still illegal to be gay and this paper did ‘out’ men, some gay, some not. These men’s lives were utterly destroyed. Some went to jail, some had to leave town, some were killed….Yes, the play is about an important subject, prejudice. A subject most of you readers have probably experienced in one form or another. And yes, throughout the play there is the story of two men in love who have been represented as people not lazy stereotypes. But at the plays heart is the subject of family, something a huge amount of us can relate to. How far will we go for the people we love? Can we support those closest to us when who they are goes against our own beliefs and morals? Why should we love our families when they can’t seem to love us?
TGUK – And the play has been critically well received to date….
CU – In late 2013, the play won the Bruntwood award which is the biggest playwriting competition in the country and I’m mighty proud of the production which has transferred from the Manchester Exchange to the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
TGUK – Does your playwriting come from a love of theatre from a very young age?
CU – I write plays for people who don’t go to the theatre. People who don’t think the theatre is for them. I was raised on a diet of television and VHS movies but no theatre other than the local pantomime. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw a play until I was eighteen.
TGUK – So what does theatre give us that film and TV doesn’t?
CU – Well, it gives us the live experience. Where else do you sit in a room made up of people you mostly don’t know, turn off your phone, turn of your email, your Facebook and Twitter and all watch people pretending to be other people. Sounds bonkers and maybe it is. But some of the best nights of my life have been sat watching someone say or go through something that I’ve felt, experienced or know. That feeling of being less alone. I believe great theatre should make you laugh, cry and gasp but most importantly when I sit down to write a play my mantra is I WILL TRY NOT BORE MY AUDIENCE. So when writing this play I thought about you the audience. That’s why there’s lots of laughter, a few tears and always an audible gasp.
TGUK – So a completely different experience in your view?
CU – Absolutely, I say “put down the Netflix for a night and come and let me and six incredible actors tell you a new story”.
The Rolling Stone is currently playing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds until 23rd May 2015. For full details, tickets and information, visit www.wyp.org.uk or call the box office on 0113 213 7700.