Sequel with a strong voice for gay rights

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“The Laramie Project: Ten Years On” cast, from left, Andrea Close, Hayden Splitt, Liz St Clair Long, Joel Horwood, Karen Vickery, Michael Cooper, Meaghan Cooper and director Chris Baldock. Photo: Janelle McMenamin

Theatre / “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later”, directed by Chris Baldock. At Rep Theatre 3 until June 22. Reviewed by ARNE SJOSTEDT.

THERE is a moment in the first play of this series, where a friend of Matthew Shepard reflects on why she was the one to find his beaten body tied to a fence. And comes to feel as though she was meant to.

In a similar way, I left the theatre wondering how the Tectonic Theatre Project came to work on this story. Because what they have achieved through doing so is not only a master class in contemporary theatre, but a powerful and necessary vehicle for social change. This play is so insightful, so well-constructed, and scripted from the real words of people the company had interviewed. Perhaps this is why the cast were able to give such nuanced character performances throughout the evening.

Directed by Mockingbird Theatre founder Chris Baldock with a very even pace, there were times where I wondered if a greater sense of urgency or energy should have been found in certain spaces. Yet as the play wove toward its conclusion, those feelings faded. In their place was the sense that what had actually happened was generally an honest capturing of the essence within each passage of script.

This show marks the return of the Tectonic Theatre Project to Laramie, 10 years following their initial visit to document the murder of Matthew Shepard, and the social and political life around that.

As a follow on from the first instalment, with this show you get more of the same. Performances are as gripping, to say the least. Meaghan Stewart perhaps the brightest star.

Looking over the two evenings, it is really quite awe-inspiring that the ensemble has prepared themselves so well for two massive plays. One of the most effective devices used by Baldock was to take any clutter out of the performance space, and give the actors nothing but chairs to work with. A master of the chair, the creative permutations he found with these over the evening, to define space, establish power and delineate relationships were many, and effective.

The play itself is structured so as to give the performers little opals of time on stage. Here Hayden Splitt and Joel Horwood were also deeply engaging. Yet there were so many unique moments of immersive drama from all performers that audiences will no doubt have their own favourite.

Baldock has done a wonderful job in allowing his cast to inhabit each voice. And when things clicked into place, like when the imprisoned murderers (played with empathy and depth by Splitt) were interviewed, it really let the outside world fade away.

All in all, it is a necessary sequel to the Matthew Shepard tale that provides a strong voice for the gay rights movement. Highly engaging, immensely worthwhile.

 

 

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