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Theatre: Bonfire of the bigotries

The Laramie Project Cochrane Theatre, London from March 11

When a passing cyclist first spotted the crumpled figure tied to a ranch fence in Laramie, Wyoming, he thought it was some kind of scarecrow. But as he approached, he saw that it was a man, unconscious, battered, struggling for life.

The end of the struggle came five days later, on October 12, 1998, when Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student, died in hospital.

He had been kidnapped, pistol-whipped, tethered to a fence and left to die in near freezing temperatures for 18 hours. Six months later, two men the same age as Matthew were charged with his murder and later sentenced to life imprisonment.

The killing unleashed a torrent of grief across the United States; there was collective soul-searching in the press and media, in places of worship, in schools and community organisations. The whole nation, it seemed, was suddenly talking about hate crimes, homophobia and the intolerance of those who are different that lies just beneath the surface of contemporary America.

Shockingly, it also detonated an explosion of virulent homophobia from the religious right which celebrated the retribution visited on an "unrepentant sodomite".

It was in this climate that Moises Kaufman and his New-York-based Tectonic Theatre Project went to Laramie a month after the murder to research a drama production.

They interviewed 200 local people, editing more than 400 hours of transcripts and crafting them, over two years, into The Laramie Project. The result is a mix of storytelling, documentary reportage and theatricality that takes a non-judgmental approach, untangling the issues without simplifying them through the words of people directly or indirectly involved.

Read the full article in this week's TES Friday magazine The Laramie Project, directed by Linda Key, runs from March 11 to April 6, Tuesday-Saturday at 7.30pm, Thursday and Friday matinesschool performances at 2pm, Sunday matines at 2.30pm at the Cochrane Theatre, Southampton Row, London WC1 4AP. Box office: 0207 269 1606

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