This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
In the catalogue of unspeakable atrocities which plagued the 20th Century, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 holds a prominent position. Ken Urban’s taut and riveting new thriller is set in the aftermath of the war in that country, using a fictional incident to explore how blame can be attributed and to ask whether it can ever be possible for survivors to find closure. The structure of Urban’s play is reminiscent of Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica in that it centres on an American journalist setting out to uncover the truth lying behind a tragic event in recent history. The Rwandan conflict was rooted in tribal warfare between Hutus who ruled the country and Tutsis who became the victims of the genocide. The journalist, needing to revive his career, is Charles (Ben Onwukwe), who asserts proudly that he is an African American, only to be rebutted with: “American, yes. African, no!” by Paul (Abubakar Salim), a Rwandan army corporal. Thus Charles is shown that he brings with him prejudices and preconceptions from a different culture, likely to colour his view of the events that he is investigating. Two nuns (Lynette Clarke and Akiya Henry), both Hutus, face trial in Belgium accused of being complicit in a massacre of Tutsis which took place in their church. Charles’ mission is to prove their innocence to the World before the trial begins, being driven by the assumption that the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church would have overridden tribal loyalties. As the truth begins to unfold, Charles meets Dusabi (Kevin Golding), a survivor of the massacre who describes the events in horrific detail and sows seeds of doubt in his mind over the involvement of the nuns. Cecilia Carey’s multi-functional set of wood and tinted glass panels encloses the intense drama, which is brought to life by five passionate and authentic performances. Urban is posing profound questions about what defines complicity, how blame can ever be fairly attributed to individuals in wartime situations and whether there is any point in doing so anyway. Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction is crisp and focussed, maintaining the tension throughout. The scenes are short and actors arrive on set in darkness so as to begin a scene instantly once the preceding one ends. O’Boyle seems to realise that any break would loosen the play’s grip and, wisely, he runs it straight through its 90 minutes without an interval. There is sour irony in the fact that Urban’s play gets its World Premier in the same week that a new Hutu-Tutsi conflict has broken out in Burundi, neighbouring Rwanda. Sadly, it may be premature for the play’s title to refer to any sort of “ending” when, in this and other parts of the World, senseless violence goes on.
Performance date: 15 May 2015
Photo: Jack Sain