Time Out says
Chris Urch's second play – about homophobia in Uganda – is a proper stunner
‘The Rolling Stone’ is packed with lines that sing, slaps that sting and scenes that will break your heart. In a similar manner to Chris Urch’s first play, ‘Land of Our Fathers’, this award-winning script combines the political and personal to phenomenal effect. ‘The Rolling Stone’ is set in Uganda and sees homosexual Dembe’s loyalties stretched between his family, his religion and his lover. It’s a hugely powerful play made up of deeply personal moments, which exposes the shocking – and dangerous – hostility that gay people still face in Africa today.
Fiston Barek plays 18-year-old Dembe, who is torn between his devoutly religious family (his brother Joe is a pastor) and atheist boyfriend Sam (Julian Moore-Cook). Barek is the gentle heartbeat of this show and his eyes sparkles with a strange sort of naïve wisdom. As Dembe’s neighbours turn against him and he is outed by the local paper (a plot twist based on reality), Dembe’s faith in his family – as well as a god that ‘does not believe in him’– is severely tested.
Urch paints every scene with great compassion and lavishes each of Dembe’s conflicting relationships with equal care. A touching first date between Dembe and Sam shimmers with hope, humour and affection. The fraught encounters between Dembe and his twin sister Wummie (a stunning Faith Omole) tingle with shared history and understanding and Dembe’s mini boxing matches with his brother Joe (Sule Rimi) are a painful mixture of protective and aggressive impulses.
Ellen McDougall directs with the lightest of touches, gently underscoring scenes with stretched strains of music. Joanna Scotcher’s simple blue set suggests the shadow of the Church: velvet curtains and white lights run around the stage and a square lighting fixture hangs overhead. These lights blaze throughout Joe’s spitting sermons but gradually fade as Dembe’s spirit is crushed by a society that refuses to let him shine.