By Anna Berkowitz and Ben Helme
“I’ve never been to a more silent production”, said the woman sitting next to us during the interval. There wasn’t so much as a cough, shuffle, or sneeze from the rapt audience over the course of two and half hours. The LSESU Drama Society’s The Laramie Project is an emotionally affecting production that showcases an excellent cast in a story that is all too relevant, even 20 years after its debut.
The play is based on over 200 interviews conducted over the course of a year by the Tectonic Theater Company in Laramie, Wyoming, following the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the state university. Under the canny direction of Harri Compton and Hadrien Jacheet, the 12-person cast does an outstanding job of portraying over 50 different citizens of Laramie, all affected by the tragedy in different ways. The production was at its best when the cast used the space and props to their full advantage. Particularly striking were the flashing police lights, the use of black umbrellas during the scene depicting Matthew’s funeral, and the reporters’ volume changes.
It’s wonderful to see queer narratives at the forefront of theatre, but the script of The Laramie Project is not without its faults. It is procedural, and documents everyone’s perspectives: from the police, to members of the queer community, to the virtriolic preacher Fred Phelps. While it achieves the impressive feat of exploring the perspectives of the entire community, it leaves something to be desired when it comes to Matthew himself. The play centralises him as an event, but sidelines him as a person. This is a stylistic choice – the play decidedly focuses on the community rather than the man. It’s worth looking him up, and affording him greater agency.
However, in discussing Matthew Shepard’s case and the attention it received from the American public, the play emphasises themes that remain prescient today, such as the intersection of gay identity, gender presentation, and the stigma around HIV. It achieves impressive nuance as it moves beyond a blanket discussion of homophobia. The play could be misconstrued as objective due to its verbatim style, but it is opinionated and angry at the systems that fail queer individuals and the ugliness and danger of ‘live and let live’ sentiment.
Critically, this production triumphs in portraying the tragedy and cruelty of the event. It was a highly emotional production, and we’ll never hear “Amazing Grace” the same way again. We also want to commend the society for donating the profits to LGBTQ+ supporting charities.
From an American, the cast should be proud of their impressive accents throughout the production. It was a well-deserved standing ovation. We look forward to seeing what the Drama Society achieves next.
Hi, I’m Anna Berkowitz. I’m from Berkeley, California, and I’m a General Course student, in my third year, studying International Relations and Literature. In the limited time that I have outside of the wonderful world of academia, I enjoy running, reading, playing flute, and spending all my money on cinema tickets and books. I love writing about new films, and tv, especially anything in the science fiction or fantasy genre. If you’d like to get in touch about anything at all, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and my Instagram is @anna.berkowiz
Hi, I’m Ben. I’m from Sandwich in Kent, and I’m in my second year, studying PPE. Aside from writing, I love hiking, reading and finding hidden places in London. I also love TV and film – if you have any suggestions for something I should watch, especially anything prettily shot or spooky, I’d love to hear. If you ever feel like discussing something I’ve written, please message me – my email’s email@example.com, or my Instagram’s benh3lme!