Thursday, 22 April 2010


21/4/10, Almeida

3 hours (?). Multi-award-winning American play by Louise Nottage, a reversioning of Mother Courage set in the modern Congo with the focus on the ghastly treatment of women: raped, abused, mutilated, abandoned, their children murdered etc etc.

The set by Robert Jones (who also designed the David Tennant Hamlet and Greta Garbo Came to Donegal) was fabulous: a wonderfully detailed tin shack on the revolve. This was Mama Nadi's whorehouse, where she entertained rebels and government soldiers indiscriminately and took everyone's money.
The rebel leader was a staring-eyed ranter; the commander of the government troops an equally terrifying man first seen in a truly hideous bright yellow shell suit with white T-shirt and sunglasses. Both were clearly psychopaths.
Sophie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) was a young girl who'd been "ruined" -- horribly mutilated, to the point where sex was impossible and she was in constant pain, by having a bayonet thrust into her. Salima (Michelle Asante) was a woman who'd been raped and held captive in the bush for five months after her baby's head was crushed beneath a rebel's boot, and after escaping and returning home had been thrown out by her family for dishonouring them. In one of the less-plausible subplots her husband, called Fortune, now a soldier comes looking for her but she refuses to see him even though he spends all night outside the shack.
Lucian Msamati (a marvellous actor we've seen in Death and the King's Horseman at the NT, The Overwhelming about the Rwandan genocide at West Yorkshire Playhouse and Ubu Roi at the Lyric Hammersmith and who was the male lead in the TV version of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) played the salesman who brings the girls to apparently hard-as-nails Mama Nadi (Jenny Jules) in the first place and courts her unsuccessfully... until the final scene in which she confesses that she too is "ruined" and he nonetheless embraces her. In one sense it was a marvellous theatrical moment: the house was utterly silent. But it was also a sentimental cop-out: a bleak play about a bleak subject, man's inhumanity to man, especially woman, and the utter inhumanity of war, should have ended bleakly as Mother Courage does and as The Overwhelming did. Such American sentimentality compromised what was otherwise an outstanding piece about an often-forgotten human disaster.
Directed by Indha Rubasingham.

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