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The Rolling Stone, Royal Exchange, Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Iím a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Event: -
World premiere of prize winning play
Lovers whose secret is in danger of exploding into public is hardly a new dramatic premise. However, the circumstances of Chris Urch's Bruntwood prize-winning play are far from traditional.
Royal Exchange Rolling Stone
Robert Gilbert as Sam and Fiston Barek as Dembe. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Dembe (Fiston Barek) and Sam (Robert Gilbert) are gay lovers whose flirations are blossoming into something deeper and more dangerous. In a Uganda where homosexuals are named and vilified on newspaper front pages, and even their families imprisoned, we know from the first playful, star-filled scene that their road ahead is going to be very rocky indeed.

The quick-fire dialogue is something which must have won over the Bruntwood Prize judges - the Royal Exchange's new writing award. It provides both laughs and tension as it propels the drama forwards.

Dembe's brother, Joe (Sule Rimi) is basking in the family pride of becoming a pastor. His rhetoric is at first bewitching and progressively more disturbing as it channels fear and prejudice against homosexuals.
Royal Exchange Rolling Stone
Sule Rimi as Joe and Fiston Barek as Dembe. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Both Joe and Dembe are at war with themselves, torn, in different ways, between family loyalties are their own dreams.

Chris Urch is well served by all the actors. Faith Omole deserves special mention, as Joe and Dembe's sister, Wummie. Her gradual realisation that Dembe's lover is man, allows us to empathise with the predicament of someone for whom sibling loyalty conflicts with all she has been brought up to believe.
Royal Exchange Rolling Stone
Fiston Barek as Dembe and Faith Omole as Wummie . Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Performing The Rolling Stone on the Royal Exchange's main stage adds extra demands to the play, especially in its denouement. Arguably, it would have fitted better in the studio. However, the human drama at the play's heart makes it compelling. It's a great advert for the Bruntwood Prize and deserves to be seen on stages beyond where it is first being performed.

The Rolling Stone plays at West Yorkshire Playhouse, from 12th to 23rd May.
Rolling Stone Royal Exchange poster
The Rolling Stone poster image
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Why? New drama inspired by true events
Phone: 0161 833 9833
Where: Royal Exchange, Manchester
Cost: From £10
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