JOYCE MCMILLAN on HEARTS UNSPOKEN at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 10.9.11
3 stars ***
THE FULL TITLE says it all about this powerful new show, playing until tonight in the Tron’s Changing House studio. Hearts Unspoken: Untold Stories Of Sexuality And Asylum is a simply-staged, 75-minute piece of near-verbatim theatre, put together by writer and director Sam Rowe from a series of interviews he conducted with men seeking asylum in Britain because of their sexuality. The play focusses particularly on the true stories of three men, known here as Ali from Iraq, Omar from Pakistan, and Barra from Senegal in west Africa; and it describes not only the savage oppression and death-threats from which they fled in their own countries, but also the shaming tale of the more complex agonies they suffer at the hands of Britain’s labyrinthine immigration and asylum system.
In some ways, the play seems almost too faithful to the stories it tells; towards the end, it tends to lose narrative energy, as the men themselves become exhausted by their long repetitive struggle for refugee status. Yet it still feels like a privilege to hear so clearly the voices of Omar the accomplished drag-queen and storyteller, Ali the serious political thinker, and damaged, broken Barra, struggling with an alien language and near-suicidal depression. And the play not only begins to give a voice to a group of people who have been silent for far too long; it also acts as another call to action against a morally bankrupt asylum system, in which low-level homophobia functions as just another strand in a notorious culture of disbelief, directed against some of the most vulnerable people on earth.