Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project has arrived just in time for this year's Gay Pride fesitval. It tells a terrible tale of gay-bashing, in a new theatre promising to bring a bit of off-Broadway buzz to London's West End.
New venue, new play? Well, not entirely. An American student production of The Laramie Project, was seen at the Edinburgh Festival in 2002 and had its London premiere at the Cochrane Theatre the following year. This Kit production initiative from Caird Company founders Holly Kendrick and Chris Perkin carries an impressive roster of A-list producers and stars such as Rhys Ifans, Damien Lewis and Sadie Frost.
Based on an horrific real life ‘hate crime' - the torture and murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming - The Laramie Project is one of those pieces that wears its heart on its sleeve with grace if also a certain sentimentality (for a British comparison, see Rikki Beadle-Blair's equally powerful Bashment, just finished at Stratford East).
Part-documentary, part-social chronicle, The Laramie Project is the result of over 200 interviews conducted by Kaufman's New York Tectonic Theater Project. And it makes for absorbing theatre by virtue of its authenticity but also its determination to be fair to all sides.
In a welter of breast-beating, the community - a place regarded as close to paradise by its "decent, caring" inhabitants – asks itself how such a terrible crime came to be committed by two youngsters, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, scarcely older than Matthew himself.
The answer lies, of course, in denial. The way, bit by bit, the full jigsaw of underground homophobia fanned by god-fearing (and fearsomely gay-hating) pastors comes into focus exposes much about the psyche and mythology of small-town, "cowboy" America with moving integrity.
So will Sound Theatre cut the mustard? Initial impressions are uninspiring. Clearly club-oriented, the steel and aluminium designs are cold, impersonal. But, as a home for Kaufman's extraordinary play, its intimacy works a treat.
The venue has yet to convince but Ruth Carney's production - which includes shining lights such as Margot Leicester, John Lloyd Fillingham and the up-and-coming talents of Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey (from The History Boys) and Penny Layden - are collectively worth crawling over hot coals to see as models of restraint with material that could easily topple over into mawkishness.
- Carole Woddis