When Matthew Shepard was brutally tied to a fence, beaten, and abandoned outside Laramie, Wyoming, members of Tectonic Theatre Group came to ask questions. Those interviews turned into The Laramie Project, a piece that touches on grief, recovery, hate, love, finding out we’re not as good as we think we are, and endeavouring to be better.
I cried watching people react to the awfulness of the news of the beating, and I didn’t stop until the lights dropped, most of an hour later.
Since it’s premiere in 2000, The Laramie Project has enjoyed tremendous success, with performances all over the country, an HBO adaptation, and inclusion in school curriculums in the US and UK. But the Italia Conti ensemble manage to take the piece to new heights. It’s not just that the characterisation is excellent, though it is. The young, 14-strong cast use key costume changes, along with physical and verbal transformation, to portray the dozens of voices in the show. It’s not that the size of the cast allows them to do inventive things with staging, creating immersive scenes at the courtroom, or the hospital, or the fence where Matt Shepard was left for 18 hours. It’s not just the injection of live music, or the attention paid to timing and pace, or even the strength of Tectonic’s script.
What makes this production worthy of the first Bobby of 2017 is the way those elements collaborate, resulting in a visceral momentum. I cried watching people react to the awfulness of the news of the beating, and I didn’t stop until the lights dropped, most of an hour later.