Pigs and Dogs review – a quick shot at homophobia

Royal Court, London
Caryl Churchill takes just 15 minutes to skewer intolerance in Africa with a challenge to both prejudice and the conventions of political theatre

Once again Caryl Churchill is firing across conventional theatrical bows. Her trenchant new drama challenges attitudes to homosexuality in Africa. It squares up to received notions of political theatre. It does so in 15 minutes.

For most of the 20th century, political theatre – from Bernard Shaw to David Hare – dealt in argument. Then came verbatim theatre – from David Hare to Alecky Blythe. Neither form quite encompasses Churchill’s project. Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell glide around each other on a bare stage, as if carried by unseen currents. They speak not to each other but to the audience, taking on myriad parts, each with a brief line or two. Churchill’s stage directions specify that the three actors can be “any gender or race but not all the same”. And that each can play any character, regardless of race or gender. Under Dominic Cooke’s sharp direction this terrific trio make each moment clear.

Their words come from first-hand accounts edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe in Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities. An American rapper declares there is no word in Africa for “homosexual”. Winnie Mandela proclaims same-sex love is “filth”. In Uganda, the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act imposes a death penalty, later transmuted to life imprisonment. Robert Mugabe’s grotesque blurt gives the play its title: “If dogs and pigs don’t do it, why must human beings?”

Alongside the denials and the damnings are the most beautiful affirmations. A homosexual lexicon is supplied: “wasagu is a lesbian”. And proclamations of love. A 97-year-old woman from Lesotho expresses surprise: “Haven’t you ever fallen in love with another girl?” Just “staying together nicely” says one man of his male partner. Where better than the stage to show – without comment - the gaps between public speech and private behaviour.

Contributor

Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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