Les Blancs at the National Theatre Online
Raw. Intense. Searing. This is Les Blancs at the National Theatre, now available to stream free as part of the current National Theatre at Home season.
Violence is on the rise in Africa, as is pain and devastation. European colonial oppression beats down and racial tension builds to explosive levels. War is mounting as the foreign bodies fight the increasing anger and rejection and try to maintain control.
Les Blancs is set at a European mission in Africa, promoting religion and offering medical aid. An idealistic yet ignorant American journalist, Charlie Morris, arrives to write about what’s happening in the country. He acts as a representative of the audience, hoping that the simplistic ways of heroes and diplomacy will foster a happy ending. But he fails to understand how the system is built not to allow that. At the same time, Tshembe, having previously moved to Europe and escaped the responsibilities of his homeland, returns and finds himself caught up in it all over again.
Of course there is a certain political timeliness to this play which can’t be denied. But this story is not just important now. It has been important for generations. More than anything, it shows the emotional devastation of colonialism, leading to a plight that still has a mark today.
Danny Sapani as Tshembe is dominating. It’s an edge-of-seat performance that doesn’t allow the audience a single second to breathe. He captures the pain and suffering of a generation and projects it with enormous power. James Fleet’s performance as Dr. Willy Dekoven is also wonderful, but for different reasons. His character is similar to that of Morris’s a decade on: one who has become all too understanding of the system and has had his ideals crushed. All throughout, that weight upon him is visible.
Les Blancs is dark and violent and powerful and raw. It takes an emotional toll. But in its unnerving atmosphere and stunning performances is an incredible story that should be told and told again.
Photo: Johan Persson