'But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at. I am not what I am' Act I, Scene I, Othello
Verbatim theatre can be powerful, moving, emotional and raw. Spotlights’ latest offering, The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman, was all of these things. What it lacked in slick pace it made up for in ingenious set and brilliant acting. The important issues raised of homophobia, hate crimes and justice were all prevalent throughout and the production team put on a visually impressive show.
The show is a verbatim piece centred on the murder of Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. It documents interviews from members of the Laramie community on the issues of homosexuality, hate crime, rural communities and justice through the eyes of Kaufman, the writer. The cast introduces each character before they speak which allows the audience to follow the plot amongst considerable multi-rolling and occasionally difficult to hear accents.
The audience are greeted by a bare set; scaffolding and two signs: one for the town of Laramie, and the other for the state of Wyoming, effectively setting the scene for the drama that is to ensue. The atmosphere created is mostly authentic, however the sheer distance in people and culture between the actors and the Wyomingites upon which the script is based is often very clear. The accents occasionally touch upon being comic which seems to betray what is definitely not a comic script. However, some strong performances lift the show which means that these discrepancies are mostly forgotten.
A verbatim script is often difficult to master - but the cast are excellent in creating extremely realistic characters. Will Kirk is one particular example: his deeply moving portrayal of the doctor attending Shepard brings a lot of the audience to tears. His monologue at the end of act one is one of the finest moments of the entire show: indeed most of the audience believe that to be the end of the show after the one and a half hour first act. Similarly, Chris Alldridge’s limo driver (portrayed on the platform that breaks the proscenium arch and stretches into the auditorium, a useful piece of visual variation) is moving and powerful. He comes closest to bringing Laramie and its citizens into our very different world.
The visuals are similarly stunning and credit must go to the creative team in producing such a pleasing set. The church window provides a useful reminder to the religious underpinnings of many of the attitudes portrayed and the set that slowly comes to life as the play progresses is simple yet effective. The most beautiful moment in the show is, indeed, the final tableau. The word “HOPE” is scribbled in huge letters above the stage, and a pride flag drapes the fence to which Shepherd is tied. Illuminating the stage are fairy lights that covers the scaffolding, creating an image of hope and progression in the fight for LGBT rights.
The show is not without its hiccups, and lines seem to be an issue for many cast members. Consequently, the pace drops in places and the nature of third-party reporting means that sometimes the script becomes a bit same-y. However, the most noticeable problem is no fault of the cast or crew; the fact that there is no way a cast in Bristol can create an atmosphere close to that of rural Wyoming. The audience cannot relate to the characters. However, it remains a powerful performance and considerable credit should go to director Ed Lees and his team. The show is deep, moving, beautiful and brings important issues to light.
Cameron Scheijde, Politics and IR student