The audience surrounds the tiny stage, as Bailey Patrick leads us through the hour with great humour and poise. This is a multi-media show, with voiceovers playing just as large a role as Patrick’s, and scraps of news headlines and music played throughout. It is not through visual aid, but through recordings and African accents that we are transported to Malawi.
The play is based on Stanley Onjezani Kenani’s short story (who in turn based it on real life), which was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2012, a prestigious award for African writing. In the post-show talk with the author, Kenani spoke of how two men were indeed sentenced to 14 years in prison, at the same time as the case of a notorious mass-murderer, who was given the same sentence. The complete incoherence of equating a murderer with a homosexual in Malawi is what prompted Kenani to write his story, and this same sense of the ludicrous, of conclusions without reason, resounds in the play.
However, while we in the Western hemisphere may rage against the injustice of human rights in the undeveloped world, the play constantly reminds us that we too are not entirely blameless. Cut throughout with frenzied news clips about George Michael (surrounding his arrest for engaging in ‘lewd’ acts in 1998) which, in contrast to the arrest of the man in Malawi, shows that even our own approach to homosexuality in the media isn’t exemplary. Kenani, again in his post-show talk, pointed out that the law that imprisoned the two men in Malawi was put in place in the 1920s, when Malawi was actually a colony of Britain.
All heavy stuff. And because of the subject matter you’d assume that the play would be equally as weighted, but this really isn’t the case. This piece is light, playful, and elicited big laughs every few minutes. There’s no rage involved, no railing against the government or sobbing about injustice, but rather what seems to have been approached as a wonderful moment to involve the audience in an interesting story. Go and see it — it’s really quite thought-provoking.
Love on Trial is running now at the Ovalhouse, until the 23 February. Tickets are £10/£6 concessions. For more information, visit: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/love-on-trial