Fortunately, one of the few songs that isn’t also by director/writer/composer Rikki Beadie Blair (“Redemption”) comes along early enough in Bashment to signal that the brutal gay bashing which follows close on its heels will be more of a necessary dramatic evil than harbinger of further gory bloodshed to come. Otherwise, not a few might hit the eject button before this stage play-based production settles into its skin.
Its theatrical roots translate surprisingly well to the big screen as a web of storylines unfolds before all of them are woven into one cohesive whole that spares few punches as the subject matte—homophobia, racism, sexism, bullying—fuels the action.
Imagine a “rap-off” called Urban Slam where JJ (Joel Dommett soars through the demanding role) is the crowd favourite—trumping many black rappers who can claim title to the art. But how white is JJ? Sporting dreadlocks, flashing skin and professing unbridled admiration for the competition, the young rhymer seems entirely at peace with himself and his music. On this special night, he’s even brought his extrovertly queer boyfriend, Orlando (“Orly” is given a superb performance by Marcus Kai, vividly portraying all manner of joy, love and innocence before and after the vicious beating that leaves him severely brain damaged) to the competition.
Sadly, the group Illford Illmanics arrives late (paving the way for an unsaid but clearly heard intentional dig at BT—Black Time—but still feel that their colour—just ask them—and overwhelming skills deserve special consideration. The ensuing on-stage literal playoff between them and JJ is one of the production’s most successful sequences. After management rules in JJ’s favour and he’s once again busy entertaining the adoring throng, the group’s leader KKK, and their Jewish manager, White Fang (perhaps the toughest role of the lot, Toby Wharton demonstrates his capacity to play the heavy with a true vengeance that will purposely disgust most but, unfortunately, raise a few cheers from those who delight in inflicting pain and suffering on those far weaker than themselves), deliberately misconstruing an overhead cellphone chat where Orly unwittingly utters the N-word to his pal. The delicate queer is then summarily pulverized by Fang and his artists (“He was gay, he was white, he was there” was one of the thugs’ rationale for the cowardly beating—to his credit, Blair covers up most of the violence with Kai’s eye-catching chest and a flashback to earlier days where he already began to realize just how different he was from other boys).
Of the three angry black men, KKK (Kraxy Kop Killer) is the most complex character of the unrepentant trio. Nathan Clough most convincingly navigates through his metamorphosis from very angry black man (knowing that he gets “fucked” daily because of his race, he cannot abide any other men fucking each other on purpose) to petulant convict before his unexpected love interest (the wonderfully named Karisma is given just the right mix of back-in-your-face and compassion by Jennifer Daley) to finally-in-touch-with-his-feminine-self (the pink panty reveal is a veritable hoot). This pivotal part positively makes Blair’s thesis come to hopeful life even as today’s headlines still remind one and all that being openly gay continues to scare more people into hateful acts than brotherly love. JWR