An elegy by definition is a lament for the dead and certainly, Douglas Rintoul’s one-act play draws upon the deaths of many in its short 45-minute playing time. Inspired by interviews with gay Iraqi refugees, Elegy highlights the plight of many middle-eastern men for whom hiding the truth about themselves and their relationships is the only way to ensure their personal safety.
With stories of allegedly homosexual men being thrown from the top of buildings by ISIS militants still a regular occurrence on our newsfeeds, it seems things have only become worse since this script was originally devised in 2011, so the importance of the issues it spotlights are more pressing than ever. Potentially, Western intervention in the Middle East has made a safe way of life for the LGBT community in those areas even more challenging than before, as it is explained by the unnamed protagonist of this story, played by Nick Simpson-Deeks, things became more difficult in Iraq for him after they had been ‘liberated’ than it was before.
Told via monologue, we hear our narrator’s story and his recounting of the experience of others for whom simply moving in the ‘wrong’ circles can put them at risk of being persecuted and tortured, at worst, killed in the most shockingly sadistic of ways. Forcing our protagonist to leave his home, family and people he loves, he escapes his country through a gruelling trip and seeks refuge in Europe.
But the administrators of his asylum cast doubt on his reasons and question his motivations with ignorant enquiries such as ‘which one are you’ – i.e. the boy or the girl in the relationship? This engenders understandably cautious behaviour from refugees that can put them at risk of having their application rejected. It’s an emotional armour that protects and harms at the same time.
Likewise, John Kachoyan’s direction sees Simpson-Deeks demonstrate this emotional disconnection in an honest, yet ultimately unaffecting way. It’s difficult to connect to a character’s emotional state when it is so buried and impassive. Similarly, it feels possible that the privileges we take for granted would be more believably shaken by the truth of a performer who actually is homosexual and of middle-eastern descent. As it stands, Simpson-Deeks’ performance, as adept as it may be, feels like a recitation.
Compositions and sound design by Russell Goldsmith add real depth and ‘place’ to the presentation while a simple, yet beautifully executed set and lighting design by Rob Sowinski make the technical aspects of this production top class.
The subject matter of this diminutive story is so very important, that it is a real pity this play doesn’t have more impact to bring its issues to greater light. Rintoul uses a technique of having the protagonist narrator refer to himself in the third person, only ever so often using the possessive ‘I’ to demonstrate when his guard is down. Unfortunately, this not only makes the non-linear plot more difficult to follow, but puts an emotional barrier between the character and the audience.
Elegy focuses on an issue that we should all be aware of and doing whatever we can to support. If only it were made more obvious when seeing this production how the audience could take steps to help asylum seekers, particularly those facing persecution and death simply for being gay.
Gasworks have paired this production of Elegy with a collection of the photographs that inspired its creation by award-winning photojournalist Bradley Secker. Don’t miss this free exhibition when you see the show.