A SEASON IN THE CONGO
by Aimé Césaire translated by Ralph Manheim from a literal translation by Marianne Badrichani..
Young Vic 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 24 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 24, 31 July 2.30pm.
Audio-described 2 Aug.
Captioned 30 July.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 July.
Vibrant, sharp and urgent: theatre at its best.
Ever-attuned to the times, the Young Vic has an onstage bar selling beer before and between the acts of Martinican political writer and dramatist Aimé Césaire’s 1966 play. Just the thing for a heat wave – and a play where spreading revolutionary thoughts among subjects of the Belgian Congo is disguised by selling beer. That’s how Patrice Lumumba agitated among the population.
When he became Prime Minister after independence in mid-1960, life became really tough. There were already tensions within the country; Lumumba like Abraham Lincoln, was determined to prevent his nation fragmenting.
It’s a big subject and Joe Wright’s production (with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) brings a bravura staging, a wide stage facing a wide auditorium, its front area filled with bar tables. A staircase ascends above a different sort of barred area, Lumumba’s prison when factions temporarily topple him.
Such opposition is fomented, literally in this staging, from the sidelines, as Belgium and other western powers continue colonisation by economic means in place of political control. Mineral-rich regions, principally Katanga, are encouraged to secede from a leader whose Leftist tendencies are increased as he’s driven into the Cold War arms of the Soviet Union.
The production incorporates a wide theatrical vocabulary; Black actors peg-on pale noses to become White characters, international financiers sway as a chorus of huge puppet-heads from a balcony – the same area where, in a moment recalling Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Lumumba’s wife Pauline warns him about opponents. In thematic doubling, Brian Bovell follows Belgian King Baudouin with Moïse Tshombe, Katanga’s sybaritic separatist leader.
What finally stakes-out the tragedy isn’t Lumumba’s fate but the brief dispatching of Kabongo Tshisensa’s Likembe Player, representing the tradition s and vitality behind the Prime Minister.
Dance and music (including DRC Music’s Congo-created Kinshasa One Two), their energy transforming excitingly into march or battle, are integral to the joyous energy that enables a tragic tale to incorporate an historic moment’s hope and joy. And at the centre, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Lumumba is a pillar of rhetoric and principle, imbued with revolutionary energy and purpose and a sense of justice expressed through natural authority.
Patrice Lumumba: Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Kasavubu/US Ambassador: Joseph Mydell.
Joseph Mobutu: Daniel Kaluuya.
Maurice Mpoli/Godefroid Munongo/Dag Hammarskjöld/Russian Ambassador: Kurt Egyiawan.
Croulard/Ghana UN Colonel/Hélène Jewel: Sandra Reid.
Moise Tshombe/Baudouin: Brian Bovell.
Jean-Baptiste Kibwe/Pauline Lumumba: Joan Iyiola.
Colonel Janssens/UN Official/Mama Makosi: Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
Likembe Player: Kabongo Tshisensa.
:Musician: Kaspy N’Dia.
Dancers: Lydie Alberto, Nandi Bhebhe, Josépha Madoki, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Oliver Tida Tida.
Director: Joe Wright.
Co-director: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Craig Berkey.
Music: Kabongo Tshisensa, Kaspy N’Dia.
Pre-recorded music production/remix: Rodaidh McDonald, Richasrd Russell.
Music Supervisor: Tim Sutton.
Puppet director: Sarah Wright.
Voice: Emma Woodvine.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Dramaturg: Ruth Little.
Assistant director: Elayce Ismail.
Associate sound: Tom Gibbons.