Adapted by Roe Lane from the story by Stanley Kenani
At Ovalhouse London until February 23rd 2013
Tickets and information at this link – http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/detail/love-on-trial
Out of Africa review
A half-full bottle of Malawi Gin and a battered armchair resting on sand are lit by warm orange light, until the silence is broken by the unmistakeably 80s opening bars of George Michael’s Faith.
So opens “Love on Trial” at Ovalhouse, adapted from the short story by Caine Prize nominee Stanley Kenani. When a local drunk stumbles across protagonist Charles Chikwanje and his lover in the toilets of Chipiri Primary School, Charles is arrested under the Malawian penal code for ‘unnatural offences’ and ‘indecent practices between males’. The play interposes illegal homosexuality in Malawi with George Michael’s arrest in 1998 for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ in a public toilet in Los Angeles. The parallels are clear and the piece explores a hysterical prejudice and media hypocrisy which isn’t confined to Africa.
Most of the script is Kenani’s powerful prose, spoken by the single actor Bailey Patrick who plays the parts of narrator and Charles, as well of interrogators, commentators and friends. Patrick has a background in stand-up comedy and as he performs in the round he calls on the audience, and effortlessly moves between the accents and gestures of this cast of characters.
He is accompanied by snatches of voice over and news footage and his props are stick men figures cut from newspaper which are hung around him. These stick men become central onlookers, who become the crowds which gather as Charles ‘story spreads like oil poured on a sheet of white paper’. And, when he is interviewed on national television Patrick jiggles them on their string in excitement, in a moment which draws a laugh from the audience, but is also an expression of sinister energy. These humorous elements are expressed wonderfully by Patrick as he circumnavigates the intimate stage.
Director and Writer Roe Lane is an accomplished young talent who draws on her own upbringing in Malawi in this artful retelling. Stanley Kenani flew in from Geneva for the opening night at Ovalhouse and called Love on Trial ‘a marvellous adaptation’. Asked what he thought of the juxtaposition of George Michael’s story with his own, he told Out of Africa: ‘I don’t think anyone could have interpreted it better…the messaging came out picture perfect.’
The production was commissioned as part of the Counterculture 50 season at Ovalhouse which aims to be a ‘theatrical incubator of a more politically-engaged performance future’. In this urgent, engaged and thoroughly enjoyable piece they have succeeded in that and more.