Review: 8

Emily Chadwick 13 November 2013

7.30pm, Tue 12 to Sat 16 Nov, Pembroke New Cellars

“This play is about not taking anything for granted,” states Katherine Bond, Assistant Director of the Pembroke Players’ staged reading of 8. Whilst a vast amount of astute Cambridge minds would unequivocally state that they are in favour of gay marriage, it is rare to pause and reflect upon exactly why this is the case. As Bond points out, 8 is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Based on the real testimonies, transcripts and records of a California trial, this verbatim theatre re-enactment from award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black recounts the court decision which would go on to overturn Proposition 8, the amendment which halted the implementation of the state’s 2008 legalisation of same-sex marriage.

In keeping with the affecting authenticity of such a play, this production was staged as a courtroom, but appropriating the audience both as spectators sitting alongside the plaintiff’s family, and also as the jury oriented in the same direction as the witness stand. In this way the play’s juxtaposition of the intimate, private considerations of the subject matter with the legal and political maelstrom of the case was neatly encapsulated.

Commendably, this combination of contrasting elements was convincingly set forth by the Players, who often far surpassed the potentially mechanical nature of the form to evoke the excitement of a courtroom drama. Notably the heart-wrenching readings of Catherine Potterton as Kris Perry and Aoife Kennan as Ryan Kendall brought a tear to the eye, counterbalanced by the fierce rhetoric of witness for the defence David Blankenhorn (Lanikai Krishnadasan Torrens) and the National Organization for Marriage President Maggie Gallagher (Roberta Wilkinson).

Two of the most compelling performances, however, came from the lawyers for the plaintiffs portrayed by Calum Docherty and Helena Blair, who surely both have flourishing careers as barristers ahead of them if their commanding presence in a real courtroom is half of what they produced in Pembroke’s New Cellars.

The shortcomings of Black’s work are manifested in its quite evident bias, showing the defendants outnumbered, overwhelmed and demonised; which may indeed have the ironic effect of creating sympathy for them. Furthermore whilst the play may reinforce one’s belief in the civil right for same-sex marriage, it doesn’t fully allow an engagement with the opposing arguments. This can have an alienating effect on those in the defendant’s corner, and is disappointing for those who support the Black’s overall sentiment of equality.

Director John King, also LGBT+ officer for Pembroke, explains that this play, of which the proceeds are all going to the LGBT+ mental health charity PACE, comes as part of a tripartite scheme along with fledgling blog as well as the topical post-play discussions occurring after each performance this week.

For all the play’s faults, this open debate is its real triumph. It might not have all the answers, but it poses some truly intriguing questions about the law, marriage, and sexuality which still must be addressed today.

A thought provoking piece which, in the immortal words of J. K. Rowling, Exceeds Expectations.