Les Blancs

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(7user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTUNJI KASIM (Eric) and DANNY SAPANI (Tshembe Matoseh) 
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonELLIOT COWAN (Charlie Morris) and ANNA MADELEY (Dr Maria Gotterling)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonDANNY SAPANI (Tshembe Matoseh)
 (© Johann Persson)
© Johann PerssonDANNY SAPANI (Tshembe Matoseh) and GARY BEADLE (Abioseh Matoseh)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonSIÂN PHILLIPS (Madame Neilson), ELLIOT COWAN (Charlie Morris) and Anna MADELEY (Dr Maria Gotterling)   
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonDANNY SAPANI (Tshembe Matoseh) and CLIVE FRANCIS (Major George Rice)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonDANNY SAPANI (Tshembe Matoseh) and SIÂN PHILLIPS (Madame Neilson)

Yaël Farber directs this forgotten classic from the short-lived giant Lorraine Hansberry

Director Yaël Farber is an extraordinary talent, a South African whose work combines European grandeur with boilingly passionate emotion and an almost religious sense of ritual. I never thought I’d be able to identify a director from the smell of their productions. But as soon as I walked into Farber’s revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘Les Blancs’, the wall of incense gave me vivid flashbacks to her titanic 2014 production of ‘The Crucible’. 

The first ten minutes of ‘Les Blancs’ are a jaw-dropping setting-out of Farber’s stall, a overwhelming surge of sights, sounds, smells – total theatre. 

The cast solemnly emerge in small groups and walk slowly through the darkened grounds of Soutra Gilmour’s skeletal wooden house: a white mission in a nameless, South Africa-like country towards the end of the colonial era. It is surrounded by sand, and beyond that, the African night, thick with haze and unfamiliar music, stalked by a quartet of magnificent South African singers and musicians, and Sheila Atim as The Woman, a silent, stylised avatar of the continent.  

Is this just a white director cobbling together an approximation of the African exotic to wow a British audience? Maybe, but the tang of authenticity is there – the singers are the real deal – and ultimately Hansberry’s point, that the white missionaries are interlopers in a place they will never understand, is very well made.

It’s not all about the director. A great African-American talent who died tragically young, Hansberry’s chief legacy is the classic play ‘A Raisin in the Sun’, with ‘Les Blancs’ never actually performed in her lifetime.

It’s a powerful but slightly flawed work, two-thirds brilliant Chekhovian drama about deluded white settlers in the last days of the colonial era, to one-third ‘Hamlet’-esque morality fable about (what one might call) the radicalisation of brooding black intellectual Tshembe, superbly played by Danny Sapani. 

It should, perhaps, have either been Chekhov or ‘Hamlet’. Both together make for a slight lack of focus, with too many minor characters, some pretty thin. Still, it’s finely acted, with standouts besides Sapani including Anna Madeley’s well-meaning but completely blinkered white Dr Marta Gotterling; James Fleet, as her wise, weary colleague Willy who finally explains the truth about the relationship between missionaries and locals in a stunning late speech; and Atim, ineffably haunting as The Woman.

The play is good; the production is better, going beyond words to evoke the sense of a timeless, indelible Africa that European artifice can’t hope to erase.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Average User Rating

4.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
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A stunning portrayal of apartheid set in a decaying missionary house in Africa. The set is eerie but versatile in conveying all necessary aspects of the time.

The main character "Tshembe" played by Danny Sapani, is returning from England to visit his ailing father, having escaped there years before. Mr Sapani truly captures the inner turmoil of Tshembe; being caught between the two races/cultures (his wife is English).

I felt the character of Mr Morris was somewhat unnecessary or perhaps overplayed. He didn't really bring anything to the play, other than long & over-familiar dialogue, which didn't strike me as genuine.

Running time was 3 hours with a 20 min interval, maybe bring a cushion!

Overall, the twisting/intertwining plot lines and subtle background characters made this play quite beautiful. A very sombre telling of a troubling time.


Les Blancs is a 1970's playscript from the well known Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin In The Sun).

An African man returns from Europe to his home country to attend his father's funeral. The story examines in detail all that racial tension existing between his African family and the white colonials governing the country.

You will be impressed by the lighting and sound direction; I would score both of them with 5 stars. They have made an excellent job on these two. For 3 hours -that this play lasts-, you will easily lose yourself to the mysterious environment & music of Africa. The whole play is accompanied by four women singing & playing authentic African instruments.


 I saw this Production after just coming back from a trip to South Africa which I think made it more engaging. All the actors did a fantastic job and I think the set and use of the staging was well executed. It was also a really interesting subject area (end of colonialism) that I don't think has been explored enough in film or theatre, but as I generally prefer musicals and comedies it didn't quite have the same excitement factor for me, hence my reason for giving 3 stars.


Superb production with some excellent performances - particularly from Danny Sapani.  There's moments which are absolutely electric as tensions mount.  I'd never heard of the play before this and can't imagine it being performed any better - the NT budget and space giving it a perfect field for telling it's still-relevant story.  Highly recommended, received a well-deserved (and rare at the National in my experience) standing ovation at the end.


I could not imagine a better production of the play. Although the play itself is a bit flawed, the production is totally stunning, & contains some really good performances. Highly recommended (& don't be put off by the listed run time of 3 & a half hours - it only runs for 3)

Really powerful performances and staging. Recommend! Also tickets quite well priced.