The Rolling Stone: A Heartbreaking But Very Real Love Story

Published in Arts  
'The Rolling Stone' 'The Rolling Stone'

In this Australian premiere, themes surrounding homophobia and violence take centre stage.

Characters Dembe and Sam (Elijah Williams, Damon Manns) have been seeing each other for a while, but they're gay and they live in Uganda. If the wrong people found out about their relationship, the consequences would be terrifying.

'The Rolling Stone' presented by Outhouse Theatre Company and Seymour Centre deals with the harsh reality that homosexuality can still mean death in some parts of the world. Here, Director Adam Cook answers questions about the show.

This is a very important topic. What sorts of things have you taken into consideration when directing this show?
Keeping my ears and eyes open because culturally it’s a whole new world for me. I’ve never directed a play set in Africa which boasts a cast entirely made up of African actors. It’s an exciting opportunity, I’ve felt very welcomed and embraced by this community of actors and it’s shaping up to be something of an event, this play! I’ve loved the time we’ve spent together. When you work on a play full of highly emotional dramatic situations, it’s often, paradoxically, a joyful experience. This has been one of those.

Why do you think this show is as relevant as ever?
It’s a fairly new play and this is its Australian premiere. It’s about, in part, intolerance and the cruelty that can attend it, and the play questions the damage done in the name of religious authority. The English poet William Blake made unforgettable reference to the “mind-forg’d manacles”. Ideas can have a provocative power. They can shake the foundations of society or unleash rebellion within our souls. History shows us time and again that it can be perilous to challenge the wisdom of the elders or the traditions that have survived the centuries, and dangerous to incur the wrath of the gods [or at least their earthly representatives], but it is the business of art to be dangerous.

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Nancy Denis (Mama) and Adam Cook

What have been some of the challenges in being at the directorial helm of the show, so to speak?
Being true to the complexity of the characters, mining every line to make sure we honour their richness. It’s a wonderful play, full of deep emotion and rich in humour. We don’t want to miss any of that, and it’s our mission to make sure that we don’t!

Looking at it a little more positively, how about some of the rewards?
I’ve been introduced to brilliant actors and welcomed into their world. I’ve loved every second of it.

Who should go and see this show, and why?
Anyone who craves being drawn into a compelling dramatic story full of twists and turns. Playwright Chris Urch has taken inspiration from the works of Arthur Miller – the influence is there in the role of women as truth-tellers, suspenseful plot-lines, and the moral ambiguity of so much of the behaviour shown in the play. Having directed a lot of Miller’s plays, I can recognise the influence, and I know that THIS play will have a similar dramatic impact on our audiences. It has a terrific narrative hook and a profound emotional punch.

Have you been able to draw from any of your own personal experiences when constructing this show?
As a middle-aged gay man who had a very painful coming out to unforgiving parents, yes. I was also bullied throughout my high school life and called every homophobic slur under the sun. Even a couple of weeks back I was harassed by a group of school boys in their early teens and it brought it all flooding back – the terror, the submission. I thought I’d left all that behind me, but to my horror I discovered the wounds are as raw as ever.

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L-R: Adam Cook, Nancy Denis, Elijah Williams

What advice do you have for anyone out there reading this facing with an even remotely similar situation to these people in 'The Rolling Stone'?
Be true to yourself. Find your voice and have the courage to use it. Allow yourself to be authentically yourself. Come along and see the play. Join our theatre community in the telling of this tale. You’ll be very welcome.

Why do you think shows like this are good for making change in society?
Theatre can be such a civilising force for good and for learning about other cultures, other modes of being, other ways of looking at the world. It can build and stretch and build again the chambers of the human heart. Theatre like 'The Rolling Stone' puts us in touch with our better natures by reflecting our lesser selves. It sends us messages from the interior but it also connects us with others. It’s an intimate yet generously collective play.

In an ideal world where you've achieved the ultimate reaction from your audience, what is someone leaving this show thinking and feeling?
Writing comes out of the disturbances in our lives, or maybe it’s the writing itself that’s the disturbance, an unwillingness to take the status quo for granted. Chris Urch throws down a challenge to us, to the way we think about love, sexuality, and religious conviction. We’ve seen the irreparable damage done by those with power to those who have none. Whether that power be at a legislative level, or on the very personal level of the individual, some of these characters struggle profoundly with the notion of homosexuality and the challenge the play offers them is this – look again at these ideas in their human form, but look again, look more clearly, and with an open heart.

'The Rolling Stone' plays Seymour Centre from 5-21 July.


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