The TheatreguideLondon Review
Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero Of Namibia,
Formerly Known As Southwest Africa, From The German Sudwestafrika,
Between The Years 1884-1915
Bush Theatre Spring 2014
The unwieldy title of Jackie Sibblies Drury's play is actually a key to understanding its nature, its power and its limits, because Drury is at least as interested in the process of presenting her ideas as in the ideas herself.
Genocide is a concept almost beyond the ability of the normal person to imagine, and Drury's subject is less the fact of the German eradication of an African tribe a century ago than the inconceivable enormity of it.
To depict that imaginative difficulty Drury reaches for an audacious metaphor – the efforts actors take in making the imaginative leap into a created personality far from their own.
The playwright presents a half-dozen actors, black and white, attempting the group creation of a theatre piece about the Herero genocide. They are hampered by having little historical record to work with – as one points out, we know all six million names of the Holocaust victims, but nothing of the Herero – beyond a cache of letters home from German soldiers, which make no mention at all of killing natives (itself chilling evidence of how un-newsworthy it was to them).
So much of Drury's detailed text is devoted to the acting exercises and rehearsal blind alleys as the actors try to project themselves into the setting and characters.
It is a fascinating peep behind the curtain into the improvisational process, and a strong metaphor for trying to imagine the unimaginable, but it creates an unanticipated obstacle for both playwright and actors.
It is obvious that Drury had so much fun in depicting the actors' creative process, and her cast have so much fun playing partly comedic versions of themselves and other actors, that they all fall prey to the temptation to forget the point of the exercise and just enjoy the satire for its own sake. The bulk of the ninety-minute play isn't about the Herero or even the rehearsal process as metaphor, but about the rehearsal process itself as comedy.
And so the actors playing actors make them jockey for dominance, show off or withdraw into themselves, fret about their motivations, beg for or resist direction, throw hissy fits, and all the other things actors are prone to do, and all to comic effect.
It's all very funny, and every bit of it is in Drury's text, but you can't help feeling that she's lost her way.
It's not until three-quarters of the way through the play that the imagined actors finally get down to imagining scenes of German racism. And what happens is somewhat predictable – they get so caught up in it that they scare themselves with how little the distance is between them and the killers.
That also is very powerful, though in a way it contradicts the point about difficulty making the imaginary leap that the first part of the play was making, and so Drury's play does eventually get where it was going, even if it got sidetracked along the way.
Drury's text and stage directions are so specific that director Gbolahan Obisesan could have been reduced to mere traffic manager, but he deserves credit for guiding his uniformly excellent cast to establishing and sustaining the intensity, both comic and serious, that carries the play over its shifts in focus and tone.
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Review - We Are Proud To Present . . . - Bush Theatre 2014