sat 23/03/2019

Bang Bang Bang, Royal Court Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Bang Bang Bang, Royal Court Theatre

Bang Bang Bang, Royal Court Theatre

Stella Feehily's drama of aid workers in Africa is ambitious but unfulfilling

Dangerous liaison: Babou Ceesay as Colonel Mburame and Orla Fitzgerald as SadbhJohn Haynes

“Go home. This is not your business. This is not your war.” So a Congolese warlord tells Sadhbh, an Irish human-rights defender, in Stella Feehily’s new drama for Out of Joint. Has the arrogance and exploitation of colonialism been replaced by the interference of aid organisations? Are the motives of those drawn to troubled countries purely altruistic? And what real hope have they of making a difference, after the media has lost interest in a conflict and left?

Feehily’s drama is painstakingly researched and it asks some big, discomfiting questions about the West’s relationship with nations it once plundered. But it feels earnest, over-deliberate and a shade contrived – problems that Max Stafford-Clark’s production, though well acted, does too little to redress. There’s a lack of fluidity and – oddly, given the ever-present threat of violence – of urgency to the play. And the representation of the Africans themselves is severely limited, allowing insufficient sense of the daily and political realities of those for whom home is a war zone. 

The action shifts back and forth through time, to juxtapose tense confrontations with armed guerillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo with an emotional stand-off back in London. Sadhbh (Orla Fitzgerald) is about to head back to Africa with a new assistant, naive young Frenchwoman Mathilde (Julie Dray). Her partner, Stephen (Daniel Fredenburgh), himself a former NGO employee, who has now – in Sadhbh’s eyes – sold out by taking a job as a humanitarian consultant with Shell, would prefer her to stay and build a steadier life with him.

And even her American colleague Bibi, who insists all aid workers are running away from something, has decided at 37 that the time has come to stop running and settle down back in New York. Sadhbh, though, is irresistibly impelled to return to DRC – and, together with the idealistic Mathilde, she is swept up in harrowing testimony of rape and brutality, the confusion of rumour, bloodshed, recrimination and denial, and an addictive, rarefied existence of passion, adrenalin, constant fear and solace sought in booze and sex.

The introduction of two journalists – an Irish hack who’s long carried a torch for Sadhbh, and a green, upper-crust, aspirant photographer (played with unself-conscious wit by Jack Farthing, pictured right, with Dray), with whom Mathilde has a fling – allows Feehily to consider how the press capitalises on the suffering of the developing world, and how its selectivity in terms of shining the international spotlight on conflicts warps the West’s myopic world view.

But it all feels somewhat schematic; and beyond the horrific testimony of one little girl, Amala, and the protestations of Tutsi warlord Colonel Mburame (Babou Ceesay) that it is not his men who are responsible for such atrocities, we learn virtually nothing of the actual Congolese experience. The focus, rather, is on the moral and emotional dilemmas of Sadhbh – sarcastically dubbed by Mburame “the white angel from the West”; and in truth, her personal plight is not quite compelling enough to power the play.

It’s a pity; the subject matter is potentially fascinating. But dramatically, the writing falls short of its ambitions. 

Sadhbh is swept up in an addictive, rarefied existence of passion, adrenalin and solace sought in booze and sex

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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