This event has now finished. Until Jun 5 2010

© Tristram Kenton

Time Out says  

Posted: Tue Apr 27 2010

This is an extraordinary work of drama: horrifying, wondrous - and true. By US playwright Lynn Nottage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for it, it illuminates the largely unreported ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo - and it does so with such power, intelligence and humanity that, heart-stoppingly directed by Indhu Rubasingham, it's nothing short of essential viewing.

In a small Congolese town, Mama Nadi - a direct theatrical descendant of Brecht's Mother Courage - runs a bar and brothel. Her customers are rebel soldiers, government militia and mud-covered workers from the nearby mineral mines; her only rule is that they leave their bullets at the bar. Small wonder: it's a hair-trigger existence, where allegiances change daily and where women - like Mama's two newest recruits, Sophie and Salima, both of whom have been subjected to unthinkable acts of sexual violence - bear the brunt of conflict bred by colonialism's shameful legacy, ethnic and economic tensions and the continuing bloody fallout from civil war.

Rubasingham's outstandingly acted production is often harrowing, but it's also luminous with the defiant courage of the survivor, personified in Jenny Jules's blazing performance as Mama Nadi. Her domain, in Robert Jones's brilliant design, is at once gaudy and homespun, with its rickety corrugated iron roof, watered-down American whiskey and string of coloured fairylights; outside, the dark jungle steams and vibrates with the sound of cicadas and an ever-present sense of menace.

Jules's Mama is regal, stubborn, sharp chinned and quick witted. And she's not quite as ruthless as she pretends to be: a box of Belgian chocolates and a flickering compassion she tries hard to quell is enough to persuade her to take in Sophie, whose body has been so mutilated that she is 'ruined'. But if the brothel is a sanctuary of sorts for brutalised women cast out by their own communities, its walls are flimsy and Mama's realpolitik offers little protection when the outside world bursts in and she and her girls are caught in the crossfire.

Nottage unsparingly shows how, with rape a recognised tactic in war, women's bodies become a battleground. It's a vision of terror, yet there's also irrepressible spirit and a glimmer of optimism here that give the play a fierce beauty. Shattering - and utterly unforgettable.

Almeida Theatre details

Almeida Theatre, Almeida St, N1 1TA

Almeida Theatre

Well groomed and with a rather chic new bar, the Almeida Theatre turns out thoughtfully crafted theatre for grown-ups. Under artistic director...

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