I was fortunate to see this production at the Royal National Theatre in 2008. I was long a fan of Lloyd Newson and DV8 before I saw ‘To Be Straight With You’. I like his work which stretches from dance into physical theatre. DV8 are thought of as a dance company, though, so it was a surprise to see the National stage this production. However, my admiration for Lloyd Newson and this company grew after seeing this production.
It was a stunning piece of verbatim theatre, based on 85 interviews. Everything spoken or broadcast from the stage was actually spoken by somebody in one of the interviews conducted in Britain. Themes of tolerance, religious faith and sexuality were explored through the voices of gay people and those with strong views about gay people. It provided a powerful picture of what it is like to live in Britain at the start of the 21st century if you are gay.
Lloyd Newson does not shy away from large issues. He wants to know why so many religions have a problem with homosexuality. He is keen to confront us with the uncomfortable expression of this homophobia; acts of violence that are often condoned by, if not actively encouraged, in the name of a god. He also wants to know why homophobia is a feature of communities that have themselves experienced hate and abuse in the form of racism.
Unlike other verbatim pieces I have seen, in ‘To Be Straight with You’ the actors/dancers are on the move the whole time. Sometimes the moves make sense given what is being spoken and sometimes sequences of quick, light moves seem at odds with the words.
The most affecting story was that of a 15 year old muslim boy told by a dancer skipping around the stage. This carefree childhood activity does not distract us from the story he is telling: his dad regularly beat him up for being a ‘poof’.
‘To Be Straight with You’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?