Tuesday, 26 May 2009


22/5/09, National (Cottesloe)

Interfering Westerners getting involved in Africa with good intentions, and simply making matters worse.

Anna Chancellor as an election observer, with unsatisfactory personal life, who intervenes to press for a voter registration drive between the first and second rounds in a small West African state, knowing it will favour the opposition candidate. He duly wins and the president concedes, but only after the observer has been summoned by the head of the army to answer his question: "What happens now?" She has presumed to set herself up as a kind of deus ex machina, and the locals resent it: Sandhurst-educated in the case of the general, Harvard-educated in the case of one of the judges on the election commission to whom she originally takes her case for a registration drive and who send her translator away; when she protests, fearing a deliberate intent to refuse her a hearing, they point out (in perfect English) that they all speak perfect English.

AC does uptight very well. Chuk Iwuji (last seen as Henry VI in the RSC's Histories) is her young translator, with whom she has a fling. James Fleet is a slimy MI6 man in rumpled linen suit, initially contemptible, later revealed to be unplasantly Machiavellian and manipulative.

I wrote in my notes: "Set: blinds". But that was several weeks ago (the perils of not writing up a show straight after seeing it) and I can't now remember much about it. But it was good. Perhaps it used those blinds to hint cleverly at African heat.

There was a deeply unconvincing pair of scenes with a TV reporter. Why is it that they never get the details right? He was cynical (fair enough), wheedling (some are, but it doesn't get you very far), attempting blackmail (which never works, quite apart from being unethical). And the flaws in that characterisation made you wonder how convincing the others are. They seemed OK to me, but you never know...

It wasn't as good as the Overwhelming, about the Rwandan genocide, which we saw in Leeds two or three years ago and which tackled similar issues. That seemed a more layered piece in which the complexities of African society and politics were handled more convincingly. This was too schematic.

It wasn't as good as Death and the King's Horseman (21/4/09) either.

There was a touching scene with the translator's elderly father, who is dying. A scene with a young boy beaten up by thugs for ferrying voters to the polls on his moped.

I came away reflecting (as one always did after listening to George Bush) that dominant ideologies always seek to proselytise, that it is an unappealing trait, and will almost certainly fail.

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