Review: How We Love, VAULT Festival

Annette Brook’s writing conveys markedly realistic characters who inhabit the rugged space with enough flare to drive a continually engaging and fascinating performance of How We Love. This is a play about queer solidarity throughout unbelievable struggle. Ewa Dina and Enoch Lwanga have intricate chemistry as gay man Babs marrying his lesbian friend Regi to escape prosecution in Nigeria. The love between these two is beyond believable – it is powerful. Dr. Paul T. Davies’ portrayal of the elderly gay Rupert, while a moderately unrealistic character, is cute enough to melt the audience on multiple occasions. 

The theme of unity between queer individuals finding safety in extremely dangerous circumstances strikes hard through these shining performances. Dina and Lwanga portray vivacious, intelligent young people working practically to find a solution in desperate circumstances. While the action of the play does not stray from the sitting room of Regi’s apartment, this space centralises the overarching peril our protagonists are trapped within. Imminent danger overhangs every word of this play.

There remain some obvious structural issues within the performance which seem to undermine its more excellent qualities. I would question the decision to place an older white male as the unifying force between two younger black individuals facing struggle, regardless of the character’s queerness. One’s intrigue into further understanding the persecution of queer individuals in Nigeria seemed overshadowed by a reflection on the genocide of gay men throughout the Holocaust.

Rupert’s tragic back story is arguably unrealistic and seems to undermine the marriage of the queer couple whose situation should take centre stage. While this in itself if a hugely important area of historical insight particularly from the perspective of queer discourse, it appeared misplaced within this show as Rupert’s rather unfeasible monologue marked the central axis of the plot. In relation to testimonies of actual concentration camp survivors, Davies’ portrayal is somewhat unconvincing. Perhaps more focus upon the current climate of oppression might be more politically striking rather than the emotional retelling of previous historical persecutions.

I take issue with the fact that this play presented the opportunity to look forward into the state of global discrimination, yet failed in many areas of this. Unfortunately, the performance does not tap into these political issues with enough contextualisation to be as compelling as it has the potential to be. Perhaps, with more focus on the central issue, this play could go as far to create a political stir. How We Love is brilliantly funny and equally gut-wrenching. In silent moments, Dina sits still, clutching a bottle of rum with tears streaming down her cheeks as the crushing reality of her character’s situation unravels before her, and we are moved with her.

How We Love played the VAULT Festival until 23 February. For more information, visit the VAULT Festival website.