DV8 opened their new show at the National tonight, a verbatim piece on homophobia. Fifteen years ago the company were the doyens of the British physical theatre scene and shows like Strange Fish, Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men and Enter Achilles helped shape the theatrical landscape of the late eighties and early nineties. Latterly I've felt their work is a bit time warped, almost cynical, lacking the brave sweep of the earlier productions - which helped define a particular form of assertive masculinity through exhilarating dance.
To Be Straight With You tackles an important issue - namely our inability to challenge homophobia, both within Islamic and Rasta cultures. Given its content, the piece can't help but be didactic and from early on we're bombarded by statistics. In eighty five (mostly Islamic) countries homosexuality is still a criminal offence and in seven of these it's a crime punishable by death.
It's daunting and disturbing, but I wonder whether the constant revelation of this accusational fact isn't theatrically counter productive, within the confines of what remains a dance piece.
Politically the work, as all good verbatim does, raises collective consciousness and offers life affirming solidarity; but as individuals we're fairly powerless to cope with the mountain of intolerance presented and, being broadly converted already (not many of the audience were openly homophobic or racist, I'd wager), depressingly reassured of what we already knew.
There was a standing ovation at the end, as much for the bravery in tackling this subject on the stage of the NT as for the accomplishment of the piece, but having understood the problem within minutes of the show starting I was wanting some possibilities for action or strategy.
This is where forum theatre comes into it's own - creating a genuine dialogue, a rehearsal for change, not merely a site for reflection. Verbatim without intervention seems unduly voyeuristic, lacking in bite and, because nothing is offered by the audience in exchange, strangely exploitative (even when the cause is just.) I do have some belief in the idea that truth has to come before reconciliation but I wonder if it's enough, having chosen an important theme to explore, just to return with information. If liberal relativism is an insufficient response to prejudice, then the show ends up siding with the very problem it's investigating.