Culture, Entertainment

The Laramie Project @ Manchester School of Theatre review – exceptional talent and attentiveness

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Manchester School of Theatre (MST) approached The Laramie Project with exceptional talent and attentiveness to the sensitive story.

MST BA Acting students showed true professionalism throughout the performance as they delivered the story of Laramie, Wyoming following the murder of Matthew Shephard. Within the cast of 15, each actor executed their roles perfectly with smooth, swift accent changes and multiple costume swaps.

Set in 1998, the play by Moisés Kaufman deals with the issue of homophobia in small town America, when homosexual people were forced to keep their sexuality a secret. This is explored through characters such as Jonas Slonaker, played by Aaron Shaw, who uses his facial expression to show the immense battle he faces.

Greg Pierotti (Harvey Weed’s first character in this play) sets the scene of Laramie, Wyoming as a place steeped in American traditions. Equipped with a cowboy hat, chequered shirt and cowboy boots, Weed’s performance is enriched by his authentic American accent.

The theatre performance is quite light-hearted which covers the depth of the real events which happened. Throughout there were jokes about the characters being performed but suddenly the theatre goes dark and a line of light appeared. It represents the Fence where Matthew was found – this changes the show dramatically and an eerie atmosphere fills the theatre.

BA Acting student, Florence Nomafo, starring as Romaine Patterson, Matthew Shepard’s best friend, explores her character’s emotion by showing sheer strength in her voice. Nomafo captures the audience’s hearts as she expresses her passion for these issues through her performance in the funeral scene with her powerful facial expressions and depiction of angel wings.

The first act finishes with a news scene in which news readers holding microphones and a stage filled with people depict the hectic atmosphere in Laramie, bombarded with journalists. It also captures the wider political response – the up-roar against the unfair treatment of homosexual people across America. Real footage of marches are projected in the background and the cast re-enact the event with candles on the stage.

Act Two shows the funeral of Matthew Shephard and captures the conflict that occurred. The scene sees family and friends of Matthew attending the funeral with Daniella Atake as the Priest performing the service, while protestors including Elliot Parchment-Morrison as Reverend Fred Phelps, shout over the priest about religious values. This impactful scene creates the funeral day filled with love and hatred.

As the performance comes to an end, the audience is shown Laramie’s people and the investigators a year later at the fence looking back on the story which had just been shown. The audience is left with an empty feeling of despair and disbelief at this horrendous story. Silence fills the theatre as they remember Matthew and a proud moment of how far the characters had gotten with protests to gain justice for Matthew Sheperd. 

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Amy Corringham

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