By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham
Venue: Almeida Theatre
Date: Saturday 22nd May 2010
I don’t know what went wrong for me at this performance. Maybe I was tired, maybe I had the wrong expectations of this piece, or maybe we were just too far round the side for this production, but I found it uninvolving in a number of ways.
Firstly, the humour was great, and I acknowledge that in difficult situations it’s normal for people to laugh as a way of coping. But when there’s so much death and violence going on, sometimes the humour seemed to be too light. We’re not used to living in those circumstances, so I felt I needed more of a sense of the hardships in order to appreciate the women’s reactions and the ways that they coped. When working in a brothel can seem a better prospect than life in a village, it’s hard to know just how sorry to feel for these women, and for the people as a whole. Are they suffering? Or are they just a strange bunch of folk who don’t seem to mind living in a war zone? I like ambiguity, but this felt more like indifference.
And secondly, the production looked like it was aimed squarely at the centre stalls. I missed a good few lines because the actor’s back was towards me, and while the rotating set was very effective, it came so far forward that parts of the stage weren’t visible from the side of the stalls.
The set was the inside and outside of Mama Nadi’s bar, somewhere in the Republic of Congo, near a road in a mining area. She takes in girls to work as prostitutes, often because there’s no one else to take care of them – their husbands and families have been killed or are away fighting in the civil war. We see the rebel soldiers and the official government troops – each lot seems as bad as the other – and in between are the ordinary folk, mainly the women, who are simply trying to survive. I was very aware of the wasted lives and the senselessness of the cultural conditioning that rejects a woman after she’s been abducted and raped, because she would dishonour the family.
And all the performances were absolutely brilliant. Jenny Jules as Mama Nadi was central to the piece, and she carried it off superbly, with Lucian Msamati’s Christian close behind as the man who loves her and finally wins her. The music was great, and the costumes and set very colourful. If I could have connected with the characters more, I would have really enjoyed this. As it is, it was still a great performance, and I hope it gets the awards it deserves.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me