Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Eye of a Needle

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Eye of a Needle

Article excerpt

Eye of a Needle

Southwark Playhouse, until 20 September

Toast

Park Theatre, until 21 September

Eye of a Needle , by newcomer Chris MacDonald, looks at homosexuality and asylum. Gays from the Third World, who've suppressed all evidence of their orientation at home, find they have to leap out of the closet once they reach the UK, and provide documentary proof of their hot-tub marathons and nitrate-fuelled rubdowns. Lots of comic potential there.

We open with a boastful Ugandan describing his ten-in-a-bed shenanigans to a shy English civil servant, who transcribes his X-rated testimony with silent professionalism. The message is upbeat: good old Britain helps grateful refugees escape from tyranny and prejudice. Then everything curdles. We meet Natale, a Ugandan lesbian, who treats the application process as an affront to her dignity. She acts like a returning movie star whose passport has been mislaid by bungling pen-pushers. Britain, she hints, should roll out the red carpet for her, and count itself lucky. It turns out she's a counterfeit gay whose wicked scheme is to win a passport by seducing her adjudicator.

This twist is dramatically promising ('bent bureaucrat beds fake dyke'), but MacDonald fails to pursue it because he wants his play to make statements about politics rather than about people. He succeeds in this. The asylum process is close to meltdown because civil servants have to take on the roles of the researcher, the detective and the judge in every case they handle. Because they're aware that an over-hasty decision may result in the death of a rejected applicant, they're tempted to behave like humanitarians too, and to rubber-stamp every claim they receive. They also hear the press calling for fewer incomers and this tempts them to behave like right-wing politicians. All very dispiriting.

And the production adds extra doses of chaos. In scene breaks, the actors bustle and quick-march through the ranks of plastic seats to affirm what the script has already told us. Sweetness and levity are in short supply here. The British characters are all angry, stressed-out emotional failures. There's a junior civil servant with a drug problem who represents youthful idealism. His boss is a rancid, cynical divorcee. And these sweating drudges have to deal with a bolshie Scots lawyer who bangs about the place like a bottled wasp swearing at people. More warmth between the characters would help. …

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