The Ballerina

Anne-Sophie Marie
Vault Cavern

Pacifique (Edward Nkou) and Celia (Dominque Isabella Little) Credit: Diana Patient
Ballerina Credit: Diana Patient
Celia (Dominque Isabella Little) and Pacifique (Edward Nkou) Credit: Diana Patient

The tense thriller The Ballerina performed in one of the small, bleak, atmospheric tunnels below Waterloo Station takes us to the world of international intrigue.

The white British diplomat Celia (Dominque Isabella Little) is interrogated in a darkened cell possibly somewhere in an African country. She is not allowed to contact anyone and she hears a woman being beaten in the next room.

The brutal interrogator Pacifique (Edward Nkou) accuses her of being a spy involved with others in trying to sabotage his government. He refuses to believe her claims that they were simply trying to encourage people’s involvement in politics by for instance an arts event.

Things become increasingly rough with him hitting her across the face, giving her a bottle of water laced with LSD and sexually assaulting her. At one point he has her tied to a table so he can waterboard her, a practice that makes the individual feel as if they are drowning. When he places a loaded gun to her head, we fear the worst, particularly since Pacifique seems to be more concerned with inflicting pain than securing a confession.

A different motivation is implied by something Pacifique throws into their conversation. He recalls as a child being tortured to denounce his parents. He also points out that there is nothing he has done that hasn’t also been done by Western governments. When she tells him she doesn’t “believe in violence, mass killings, torture and blackmail,” he replies, “that’s capitalism. We are alike.”

Although such moments are meant to suggest there is a historical context to his violence, the audience’s sympathies are inevitably with the vulnerable and apparently innocent young white woman. Given what happens to her, it would be difficult to sympathise with Pacifique even if he was a loved relative with a reputation as Father Christmas. As a consequence, the depiction of him and the other black characters tends to reinforce very old, cruel negative stereotypes of black men as dangerously physically violent.

The story as it stands can seem a bit simplistic. However, the play directed by James Scotland-Barnes always holds our attention has a brief striking scene-setting dance sequence with masks and is performed by two confident, effective performers.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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