Performances of a play about the struggles of a young, gay Ugandan businessman have been banned by the National Theatre of Uganda.
The River and The Mountain, written by the British playwright Beau Hopkins, is a sympathetic portrayal of a corporate businessman coming to terms with his sexual identity in a climate of oppressive homophobia.
It became the first ever play on the subject of sexuality to be performed in Uganda – a nation which condemns homosexuality as illegal – when it was staged at smaller venues earlier this month. However, the National Theatre in Uganda's capital, Kampala, refused to stage previously scheduled performances.
The East African nation’s Parliament passed a bill three years ago authorising the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality”. Last year, Ugandan gay activist David Kato was murdered in Kampala following tabloid revelations about his own sexual identity.
The play had its premiere in Kampala on 17th August, in a minor venue, but its transfer to the city’s main theatre was halted by Media Council authorities one day before its opening night, amid concerns that it had not been authorised by the government.
The National Theatre’s production manager Edwin Mukalazi was worried that the play's themes were too much of a "sensitive issue", dealing with a topic he described as “something that does not stand for our mandate."
Beau Hopkins had hoped that the play’s controversial storyline would provoke debate about the issue of sexual identity, and enlighten the nation about the suffering and persecution of homosexuals.
Okuyo Joel Atiku Prynce, the actor playing the gay protagonist, told The Guardian: "We are all disappointed but not surprised that we could not perform at the National Theatre.”
The play’s directors still hope to be able to stage the production in other East African countries.
Uganda charges British producer David Cecil over gay play
The authorities in Uganda have charged a British theatre producer, David Cecil, for staging a play about the condition of gay people in the country.
He appeared in court accused of "disobeying lawful orders", because the play The River and the Mountain was performed without authorisation.
Mr Cecil was denied bail. He faces two years in jail if convicted.
The Ugandan parliament is considering legislation aimed at increasing penalties for homosexual acts.
The play – the main character of which is a gay businessman killed by his own employees – was performed at two theatres in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, last month.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda and gay people have faced physical attacks and social rejection.
An anti-gay bill imposing life sentences on those convicted of homosexual acts was re-tabled in parliament earlier this year.
It was first introduced in 2009 but never debated – and the MP backing the legislation says a clause proposing the death penalty will be dropped.