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A CurtainUp London London Review
Bang Bang Bang


Go home, Madame Kavanagh. This is not your business. This is not your war. — Colonel Mburame
Bang Bang Bang
Julie Dray as Mathilde and Frances Ashman as Woman with sick baby
(Photo: John Haynes)
Stella Feehily’s latest play Bang Bang Bang is based on hours of meticulous research with the workers of various NGOs and charities who are employed in Africa to monitor the situation and to provide economic or medical aid. It is about these workers who are mostly women who put their own lives on hold while undertaking this dangerous work hoping to make a difference in war torn regions of Africa.

The play opens with a prologue, set in Kivu in the Congo, with a terrifying situation where two European female workers are threatened with rape by a soldier who repeats "Deshabillez-vous" or "Get undressed". The older one an is Irish woman Sadhbh (pronounced Sive like five) (Orla Fitzgerald) and her assistant is French woman Mathilde (Julie Dray). Sadhbh advises the less experienced Mathilde to attempt to connect to the soldiers’ better nature: "tell them you are married, tell them you are a mother, talk about God, about Jesus." Sadhbh offers the soldier money, telephones, cigarettes and whisky. The play then traces back over the previous few months to London where Sabhdh lives with former aid worker Stephen (Dan Fredenburgh) who is now a consultant on humanitarian issues to a large petroleum company and who misses his girlfriend who is away in Africa for eight months a year.

Later scenes introduce a young photographer Vin (Jack Farthing) who has a romantic evening with Mathilde and seasoned journalist Ronan (Paul Hickey). The ethics of the journalist are questioned when it appears he is more interested in the story about a violated aid worker than the rape of African girls as young as eight who are kept as sex slaves.

Colonel Mburame (Babou Cessay) is interviewed by Sadhbh about the atrocities and he claims they are lies, propaganda spread by the Hutu. Over a cup of English Breakfast tea, Sadhbh attempts to get Colonel Mburame to answer the allegations but his only answer is to talk about the massacres by the Hutu on his own village as a child when his mother was killed with a hammer and he was left for dead and to ask her personal questions. The irony of the English ceremony of afternoon tea is juxtaposed with stories of violence and war.

Miriam Nabarro’s sets contrast Africa and London with accurate detailing; we feel the heat of Africa. The performances under Max Stafford-Clark’s direction are reliable, particularly Orla Fitzgerald as Sadhbh, the enigmatic defender of human rights. What is the drug that makes her return to employment in the dangerous DRC instead of listening to her biological clock? Bibi (Frances Ashman) is a New Yorker who briefs Sadhbh and Mathilde about the situation in the Congo and who maintains that all the aid workers "are running away from something".

Stella Feehily’s play is very much about those she interviewed, the European women workers rather than the point of view of those living in the Congo although we also meet local health worker Mama Carolina (Frances Ashman) who cares for the war orphans and the abused girls. The children with rifles are frightening. Much of the dialogue is in French and it helps understanding of the play to have at least some schoolboy French. Bang Bang Bang seems to fall into the trap Sadhbh accused Ronan of, being more interested in the stories of the aid workers than those in the Congo.

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Bang Bang Bang
Written by Stella Feehily
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Starring: Orla Fitzgerald, Julie Dray, Frances aShman, Babou Cessay, Dan Fredenburgh
With: Zara Brown, Pena Ilyambo, Aklela Louis-Frederick, Jessica Richardson, Jack Farthing
Designed by Miriam Nabarro
Lighting: Johanna Town
Sound: Andy Smith
Movement: Mark Murphy
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 5th November 2011 then on tour to
8th -12th November: Northcott Theatre, Exeter Box office 01392 493493
15th -26th November: Salisbury Playhouse Box office 01722 320 333
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th October 2011 performance at The Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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