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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
The play follows a Member of the European Parliament, Geoff Fallon (Kevin McNally) from when as a student (Paul Ready as the Young Geoff), he spent a GAP year in Africa, to the present day. His friendship with Jean Kiyabe (Ray Fearon) is logged from its inception in Africa to Europe today when Jean speaks to the European Parliament about his country's predicament. Geoff has two encounters with African women; one when he is a student with Odette (Assly Zandry) who is Jean's servant and thirty years later with Florence (Nikki Amuka-Bird), an "illegal" immigrant worker in Europe.
Geoff's naivety propels much of what happens. As a student, his inexperience can be excused but as a middle-aged politician he still demonstrates a lack of perception as he meddles. Waters explains that this is the Europeans trying to force fit their template onto African politics as Europeans attempt to explain events in tribal terms. But this is leading us into muddied waters as we are largely left with the impression that some things cannot be explained. Players, whom we warm to as characters, are shockingly exposed as murderers and rapists, blood-thirsty purveyors of inexcusable hatred.
Ray Fearon is impressive as the young Jean and as his older self, the weary emissary to the European Parliament. His impassioned speech about how Africa was stripped of its resources to provide Europe with minerals, how Africans were made to work for subsistence wages to provide Europe with crops such as coffee, hits home. I liked the way Jean compared the simultaneous translation in Brussels to Pentecost. As a young man, Jean's attitude to women is repressive. Geoff too takes advantage of the African women he meets. Sebastian Harcombe is a coolly elegant politician, Alan Carswell, a government player who has to rescue Geoff Fallon's blunder. Nikki Amuka-Bird as Florence is anxious to please, appearances belying the cruel reality of her experiences in Africa.
Waters has written some very interesting and potent speeches, graphically descriptive of harrowing events when whole villages were wiped out in mindless massacre. Josie Rourke directs these overlapping scenes as we switch decades and continents from Brussels to the fictional Irundi and has elicited good performances. The set, a lit criss-cross floor grid, makes the players look as if they are pieces on a chess board. There is African music and dance to tie the play in with its title but these are tunes whose notes we cannot attempt to play.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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