Posts Tagged ‘Kabongo Yshisensa’

Walking through the doors into the Young Vic auditorium has become one of life’s exciting little adventures; you never know what you’re going to see. This occasion was particularly exciting, confronted by Lizzie (Shunt) Clachan’s giant two-tier set that takes up half the space, with a disused empty swimming pool filled with tables & chairs for the audience!

I have to confess that this is a slice of history which has passed me by, probably because I was too young to engage with it as ‘current affairs’ and it somehow hasn’t become modern history yet. We’re in the Congo as the 50’s become the 60’s. It’s still a Belgian colony when charismatic beer salesman Patrice Lumumba sets up a political party. Within 5 years he’s Prime Minister. Within 7 months he’s dead.

Though Aime Cesaire’s 1966 play focuses on little more than a year in one African country, it could be the story of the African continent – predatory European colonists (Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal) and their greedy unprincipled corporations followed by imperialist superpowers (The US, USSR and now China), an ineffectual UN and local bullies all after the same thing, none giving a shit about the African people. We get Lumumba’s tragic personal story, but we also get the big geopolitical picture. It’s fascinating.

Erstwhile film director Joe Wright’s staging is, as one might expect, on a spectacular scale. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack and lots of wonderful Congolese music, some played live by Kaspy N’Dia. The US, USSR and greedy businessmen are represented by puppets. With the help of choreographer-of-the-moment Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, there’s great dancing and stylised movement. Kabongo Yshisensa, when not playing beautiful Likembe, acts as a sort of spirit-of-Africa narrator, speaking in Congolese and translated by other actors. Women play men and black actors play white roles with elasticated noses or blonde wigs!

Joseph Mydell is excellent as the president who turns and Daniel Kaluuya is terrific as Mobuto, the army colonel who goes on to rule for 32 years – what a long way Kaluuya as come since Sucker Punch & Oxford Street at the Royal Court. Towering above them all is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lumumba, whose trajectory from humble salesman to Mandela-like hero and ultimately martyr is played with great subtlety; a stunning performance.

Another triumph for the Young Vic; not to be missed!

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