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The Rolling Stone review at the Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘unflinching’

The cast of The Rolling Stone at the Orange Tree Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of The Rolling Stone at the Orange Tree Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton

Chris Urch’s Bruntwood Prize-winning play crashes into Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre with the force of a very small, but very real meteor.

The Rolling Stone – which premiered at the Royal Exchange last year – tells the story of Dembe: a man who falls for another man. Problematic to some small extent in most parts of the world but in his native Uganda – where the local newspaper publishes the names, faces and addresses of gay men for the attention of a prosecuting government and vigilante hate mobs – it’s life-threatening.

Fiston Barek is commanding and moving as an elfin Dembe, but it must be said there is some indefinable ingredient missing in the chemistry between him and his lover Sam that slightly dampens the first act: the stakes don’t feel as high as they should when it is only their love on the line.

But then the second act hits, and the pieces suddenly fit, and the dominoes fall with terrifying precision. It is difficult to know where to place highest praise: Faith Omole mesmerises as Dembe’s knowing twin sister Wummie, Sule Rimi’s grotesque performance as his pastor brother is far too believable, and perhaps the best scene comes as Jo Martin’s scandalmonger neighbour whips both them and herself into a Crucible-esque frenzy of accusation.

“Memories fade,” shouts Wummie at one point, “Memories contort and change.” But she’s wrong: not all of them will dim. Some sear into the mind and in this play there are moments – a dance, a look, an embrace and the most terrible, preternatural scream – that I will carry with me for days. Maybe months. Maybe years.

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An unflinching drama that racks up the tension and contains bursts of real horror