They Drink It in the Congo at Almeida Theatre
Written by Adam Brace and directed by Michael Longhurst, They Drink It in the Congo is a gripping and unusual piece highlighting the brutal conflict in the central African country within the context of Britain’s somewhat misguided attempts to help. A parliamentary representative, Stef (Fiona Button), is charged with organising a Congo Voice festival in London. With her ex Tony (Richard Goulding) as her PR adviser and her Congolese assistant Anne-Marie (Anna-Maria Nabirye), she attempts to gather national support for their festival committee, despite being met with death threats and violent attacks by an aggressive native opposition movement who sees the festival as voicing support for their hated president.
A masterful juxtaposition of intense elements is created, outlining the desperation in the Republic amid a well-meaning white disconnect, bringing to light a miscommunication that occurs as a result of cultural myopia. Startling sound effects and visuals are highly cinematic, effectively recreating the violence, the horror, the overwhelming emotion of the living hell in the region. The audience is there, in the mines, in the country itself, gripped by fear watching soldiers kill and violate. Rape is the weapon of choice in this battle, as the Congolese women try to explain to Stef and her corporate crew that ”the war in Congo is not on land, but waged on women’s bodies”.
Sincerely wanting this festival to raise awareness of the situation in the region, Stef’s struggle to do so amid great opposition is borne of a European blindness to the stark realities in Africa. Banter about her email-spying ex is juxtaposed with graphic scenes of the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl in the Congo, where Stef was previously sent to report on medical aid. Traumatised by the father’s gaping head wound, she misses the point of his disowning the daughter he was forced to rape at gunpoint. Paying him money to see that injury a year later provides catharsis, but highlights a chasm between the Congo nightmare and white European self-reference. Likewise, the team’s hiring as festival entertainment of an African band, a raunchy comedian and a Congolese poet who uses emails as “found poetry”, contrasts our vapid entertainment culture with the realities of the daily gang rape of African women and children.
A rich, disturbing, unique piece with many fascinating elements that inspire repeat viewing, They Drink It in the Congo is powerful theatre.
Photo: Marc Brenner
They Drink It in the Congo is at Almeida Theatre from 12th August until 1st October 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for They Drink It in the Congo here: