The title of Lynn Nottage’s powerful, Pulitzer Prize-winning play is as stark as the horror it describes. During the civil war in the Congo, women were caught between rampaging armies of militia and rebels. A woman so damaged by rape with bayonets that she can no longer work as a prostitute, let alone hope for marriage, is said to be “ruined”. Salima was contentedly harvesting tomatoes while her husband was away buying an iron pot, when the soldiers came, killed her baby and raped her repeatedly. Pretty Sophie was hoping to go to university when she was raped so violently that she is in perpetual pain. Ruined, she is brought by her uncle to a bar-cum-brothel in the jungle run by Mama Nadi, who takes in both women.
Inspired by Brecht’s Mother Courage, Mama Nadi is a survivor who has learned to look after number one and make a successful business out of the dislocation of her country. Tough and fearless, facing down bullies in uniform, she is played to the hilt by a mesmerising Jenny Jules. Jules is well supported, especially by Lucian Msamati as a soft-hearted, bantering trader and towering, Grace Jones-lookalike Kehinde Fadipe as chief hooker Josephine.
Nottage does not shy away from the desolation of the women, whose stories are based on first-hand accounts collected in East Africa. But on Robert Jones’ jungly, corrugated tin revolve set, there is room too for wit, music and a celebration of survival under Indhu Rubasingham’s gripping direction.
If the ending is a trifle sentimental, we are all too ready by then for a moment of hope and gentleness.
Almeida, London, April 15-June 5
- Lynn Nottage
- Indhu Rubasingham
- Cast includes
- Jenny Jules, Lucian Msamati, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Michelle Asante, Kehinde Fadipe, Okezie Morro, Silas Carson, Steve Toussaint
- Running time
- 2hrs 30mins