The Rolling Stone – Life, love and death by neighbourhood watch. (Theatre review)

The Rolling Stone

Outhouse Theatre Company and Seymour Centre

5 to 21 July. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

According to Foucault, a natural consequence of what he termed as parrhesia (freedom of speech as a voice from the populace to the governing) was sustaining freedom, constituting the self, and the proper governing of others. Foucault makes a strong case for the deterioration of this ideal. He cites its translation from ‘democracy’ into other fields; its moral ambiguity, as it was no longer seen as necessarily good; its shift in focus from the government of the city to the government of self and thence government of others; and its insertion into the division between philosophy and rhetoric. This question of the governing of others starts with a governing of self and it is this complicated relationship with free speech, truth and living that Chris Urch so succinctly portrays in his play The Rolling Stone. A convenient tangle exists, as we are well aware today, the application of which is free speech wielded as a weapon for neighbor to use against neighbor. The establishment of a delinquency that constitutes something like an enclosed illegality has a number of advantages, not the least of which is that it legitimizes the supervision of citizen against citizen.

As Chris Urch so succinctly claims, it is not our piety that has us turn against our neighbor, but our fear of being just like them. Is there anything sweeter than the crime committed by our enemy that acts as diversion from crimes of our own? It is commonly understood, though rarely acknowledged, that anger against the other rises from the mirror they present. Petty delinquencies unilaterally approved by society (sex outside of marriage, recreational drug taking, petty tax evasion and the like) are evoked at a moments notice as criminal activity. ‘We all do it’ is a lifestyle mantra but ‘you did it’ is the cry of the crowd. These and other delinquencies keep us focused on the petty crimes of our neighbor as self protection while preventing us from standing out and speaking up. It is for reasons of control that certain social behaviors need to criminalized. Behaviors such as abortion and sexuality must be criminalized, not because of the abominations cited, but because we all engage in them and this secret keeps us small and easy to surveil. Monitoring sexuality, above all else, has the convenient result of making us all criminals.

For Chris Urch and through him director Adam Cook, life and death comes down to what the crowd arbitrates. Delinquency or controlled illegality is an agent for the illegality of the dominant groups. All the characters in The Rolling Stone are tragic as all are caught up (some paying with their lives) in the drama of petty crime made large, but unique (and true to each of us) is the tragedy of Mama (a marvelous Nancy Denis) who imagines that this force can be wielded by those at the bottom. Her claim to Puritanism which closets self-interest is the illicit fiscal agent operating over illegal practices. By becoming god’s police, she actually is an instrument for administering and exploiting illegalities. She is exemplified in the young white male troll we see today whose Puritanism drives racism, sexism and hatred of the liberal media all in the name of free speech. These young men are our new god’s police; puritanical, sanctifying fear as reason in the name of defense against an enemy that not only doesn’t want to hurt them, but worse, doesn’t notice them.


The Rolling Stone highlights the idea that the art of punishing must rest on a technology of representation. The ideal punishment by society against its individuals is when it is extracted from the crime itself. Thus, when the individual thinks of committing the crime, they think of the punishment also. Thus when Joe (the tremendous Mandela Mathia) speaks out against homosexuality, he is offensively graphic, calling forth the mechanics of a crime of love. Adam Cook upends this with the very beautiful love play between Dembe (Elijah Williams) and Sam (Damon Manns) striking a potent chord for what love between men looks like – like all forms of divine and beautiful love. It is in this choreography that the greatness of The Rolling Stone lies. Positing the real love of the two men against the language of those who refuse to witness what they do not understand leads the audience away from an association with anger and hatred when we think of gay love in Uganda. We begin to understand that Puritanism is our enemy because it promotes and makes certain our own delinquency including denunciation of others as our only escape. By watching the joy between Dembe and Sam played out, we are forced to confront the horror of Joe’ words later, rather than being tricked into imagining the story is one of perspectives.

This production of The Rolling Stone is one of the most powerful and beautiful performances of the 2018 Sydney season. The entire cast is a force, with standout performances by Elijah Williams, Zufi Emerson and Mandela Mathia as the three young people struggling to find their way in the world. The heart and fullness of Uganda is properly depicted on the stage thanks for the most part to the outstanding community and cultural liaison of Moreblessing Maturure, and the simple and beautiful set by Isabel Hudson. Adam Cook calls forth excellent performances from his strong cast, retaining the power of the text through the complexities of depicting a world so very different from that in Sydney Australia, such that we feel a fresh affinity that spawns excited questions rather than understanding nods. The Rolling Stone is a wonderful production that will inspire and excite the audience to expand their ideas of how theatre, and love, should look.