Home » London Theatre Reviews » Awake, Gay and Writing A Play – Golden Goose Theatre | Review

Awake, Gay and Writing A Play – Golden Goose Theatre | Review

It transpires Birthmarked wasn’t the only show at Edinburgh Fringe 2023 about an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. Awake, Gay and Writing A Play is a remarkably positive – without ever being overly saccharine – autobiographical monologue. Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses is done by either disassociation (that is, by formal request) or by being disfellowshipped. The former, at least in theory, is as straightforward as a letter of resignation, and there are sample disassociation letters available online should anyone need them. The latter involves a ‘judicial committee’ of three or more elders, who call a ‘judicial hearing’ – this play includes one for the audience to experience. Should it be decided that a member committed one of many ‘serious sins’ (which include celebrating Easter, singing the national anthem and voting in a general election) it is grounds for expulsion, or ‘disfellowshipping’.

In either context, it is official Witnesses policy to practice ‘shunning’ – not to have anything to do with anyone disfellowshipped or disassociated. It is not permitted to say ‘hello’ to a shunned person, and as this play would have it, they are sometimes even seen by Witnesses, in all seriousness, as the embodiment of the Devil himself. As such, the audience was, according to the Witnesses, watching a satanic play. Shunning extends even to immediate family members.

Awake, Gay and Writing A Play
Awake, Gay and Writing A Play

Much of the story presented in this play is true, namely, all of it, apart from one or two bits that the audience is later told are not true: therefore, to protect people in the narrator’s life who are still in the religion, but communicate with him anyway contrary to Witnesses rules, I use neither the narrator’s actual or stage names in this review. I simply call him Robert, named for Robert Ciranko, the president (at the time of writing) of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, the main corporation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to publish religious literature.

Robert starts with an icebreaker question, posed to several members of the audience, only to take some of the answers and consider whether any would benefit from a follow-up visit: it’s the sort of thing Witnesses tend to do (although these days they are less likely, at least in London, to go door to door, and can be found standing outside a railway station during commuter peak hours with a display stand full of shiny booklets). Later, on an overseas mission, he develops strong feelings for a fellow missionary, which is how he discovers his homosexuality: but, as he knows, it is as much of an abomination as having a blood transfusion in the eyes of the Witnesses.

Watching Robert voice various elders on the judicial committee was delightful, even as some of what they were saying was frankly absurd, and a just cause for laughter amongst the audience, a decent proportion of which were also ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is unsurprising to me, who was raised in a borderline puritanical evangelical household, that Robert should leave the Witnesses and turn out to be a very warm, witty and welcoming person: it’s all part, y’see, of being different from the separatist and divisive tactics of his previous faith. Intense and intriguing, the show is a safe space for anyone who has suffered from controlling or coercive behaviour, irrespective of religion or belief.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This autobiographical show began life as a story told in a pub in Bristol in 2018, weeks after the writer had left the religion he’d been a part of for over 30 years. He was affected by the way the audience, at this story-telling event, reacted to his personal tale, and realised that there could be something worth developing, and that some of the things he had experienced might resonate with people outside of the obvious group of those who have left a high control religion.

The show is deliberately entitled ‘Writing A Play’, as it reflects the continuing journey to freedom and an ever clearer understanding of the writer’s own identity.

Awake, Gay and Writing A Play
Golden Goose Theatre
5 May 2024
https://www.goldengoosetheatre.co.uk/

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