Review: To Be Straight With You

By John Nathan, November 6, 2008
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Lyttelton, National Theatre, London SE1

DV8's dance piece makes a strong case to refine an old adage - that a society should be judged by how it treats its minorities.

Eighty-five people living in the UK were asked about their attitudes towards religion and homosexuality. It is these voices, many of them homophobic, some of them belonging to the victims of homophobia, that with varying degrees of success DV8's dancers translate into movement.

Most of the bigotry portrayed is rooted in religion - much of it Christian, most of it Muslim, some of it Jewish. Video footage of what amounts to a recent anti-gay pogrom in Jamaica is terrifying.

Now, I admit to a prejudice of my own here. Not against gay people I hasten to add, but against theatre that, no matter how well-meaning, only reinforces the views of its audience. What is the point of a production promoting the message that homophobia is a bad thing to a National Theatre audience made up mostly of nice, tolerant liberal types?

Yet what makes this show worth its stage time is not the dancing, wonderful though much of it is, especially Ankur Bahl's persecuted rope-skipping Muslim, nor the technical brilliance of Lloyd Newson's production in which performers interact with video projections often to stunning effect, but its politics which draw the battle lines between societies who persecute gays and those who protect them.

This is a show that does not shirk from identifying Islam, not all of it fundamentalist, as the main source of gay hatred in this country and much of the world. In the scene where a dancer spins a digitally drawn globe that highlights great swathes of the planet as being ruled by laws threatening the life and liberty of gay people, including "all of the Middle East, except Israel", a lesson becomes clear - that freedom of expression, religion and gay rights are so closely linked that it is probably no exaggeration to say that a society should be judged by how it treats its gays. (Tel: 020 7 452 3000)

    Last updated: 10:47am, November 6 2008