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Last week NA (Wotton House) initiated the series of this Lent Half’s house plays with Moisés Kaufman’s ‘The Laramie Project’ in the Caccia Studio, directed by Mr Hawkins, the current Director-in-Residence.

The play, which first performed two years after the event it depicts, pivots on a small town’s response to the horrific murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard in 1998. As illustrated by the charming and expertly painted backdrop of deep blue sky and towering mountains, the location was the American West, more specifically Laramie, Wyoming, which as noted in the play, has since become “a town defined by a crime”.

Unlike most theatrical works, ‘The Laramie Project’ was created from edited interviews, conducted by Moisés Kaufman. To mirror this, NA’s rendition featured a TV on set, to which a camera was connected. As the camera was moved by the ever-present Moisés Kaufman, masterfully played by Kit R, the picture on the television changed. This not only cleverly harkened back to the source material, but also reminded the audience of the authenticity of the events we were watching unfold.

The play opens in late 1998, as Laramie recoils from the news of this hate crime. In the opening scenes, through a series of interviews, Kaufman captured the subtlety of everyday homophobia. Particular striking was when Jedadiah Schultz (played by Jamie T) recalled his parent’s refusal to attend a dramatic performance as the protagonist was a gay man. The whole spectrum of views is explored in this opening section, from those who are wholly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, to those who are certainly not so, expressing discomfort or even recoil at the idea of homosexuality.

As the news of the crime spreads, news agencies flock to the town, prompting important discussions about the treatment of gay people. In a demonstration of solidarity, communities hold vigils for Matthew. In the Caccia Studio, this was represented by small rainbow-striped pieces of fabric, which were distributed amongst the audience, as a reminder of real-world issues.

Two perpetrators are brought to trial, igniting a powerful conversation on the moral justifiability of the death penalty. What follows is a deeply moving monologue from Dennis Shepard (Ned P-B) which contains the ultimate enaction of mercy – Dennis lets Henderson live as a reminder that Matthew was not allowed to. The play concludes with the reflections of Laramie residents on their new outlook, as the theatre company leaves the town to produce the play.

Congratulations and thank you to all involved, whether in acting, directing, lighting, sound, set design, or front-of-house, for putting on such a moving and enjoyable production to kick off the Lent Half.