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A Season in the Congo review at Young Vic London

Filmmaker Joe Wright made his stage directorial debut at the Donmar earlier this year with a bright, light Pinero comedy. His second stage production sees him tackling Aime Cesaire’s 1966 play is about the life and death of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, whose execution in 1961 is still a subject of controversy and debate.

Cesaire’s play is a very Brechtian piece, episodic in structure, full of speeches and song. For this production Wright has joined forces with the choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – who worked with Wright on Anna Karenina and here co-directs – and the whole production has a vibrant physicality. Music pulses through the piece and there are frequent dance sequences, bodies made poetic. Lizzie Clachan’s tiered set takes the form of a drained swimming pool surrounded by sun-lashed concrete and plastic chairs and the performers frequently spill into the audience. When members of the all black cast are called upon to play the colonists they don porcine white noses and adopt hammy English accents. The Belgian government is represented by a group of huge looming muppet heads and menacing puppet vultures stalk the stage throughout.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Lumumba is a powerful one. He has an orator’s flair, charismatic, intelligent, but not without flaws. But dazzling as the production is visually there are times when it feels overstuffed and oddly unengaging as a result, particularly in the first half. The scenes of Lumumba’s ousting and demise are incredibly powerful and the play’s bleak, telling final moments resonate like a rifle crack.

Production Information

Young Vic, London, July 16-August 24

Author
Aime Cesaire
Directors
Joe Wright, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Producer
Young Vic
Cast includes
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Kaluuya, Joseph Mydell, Lydie Alberto, Nandi Bhebhe, Brian Bovell, Sharon Duncan-Brewster
Running time
2hrs 45mins

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