A Place at the Table
Camden People's Theatre
This is a piece of verbatim theatre which the company has created from United Nations Security Council records, published reports, private interviews and their own research concerning the ethnic conflicts and genocide in the Great Lakes region of eastern Africa. Its starting point is the assassination in 1993 of Melchior Ndadaye, first Hutu President of Burundi, and the Security Council's report on the 1993 army coup that replaced him.
Audience and cast sit around a huge conference table as sections of the report are read into microphones and evidence presented. At the control desk the sound technician and what could be a UN translator are visibly bored by the bureaucratic presentation and the barrage of information and against this diplomatic language the voices which now begin to speak up around the table with their own personal experience take on added vitality and urgency.
The convenor takes things backwards, seeking causes in previous coups and massacres. In Belgian colonial rule, in German, in Tutsi dominance in the fifteenth century, of Hutu settlement a century earlier - right back to the division of Noah's children into the tribes of Israel - before abandoning that as a way of explaining.
Others talk of later effects, spreading from Burundi into neighbouring territories, and uncover global commercial interests at work - literally as they dig out from the earth the instruments of modern technology that rely upon the region's minerals. From flat bureau-speak the presentation moves through the conviction of personal narrative to take things forward to a fully theatrical presentation with music, dance and potent symbols that include an electronic participant in the council and a graphic presentation of conditioning so that hatred builds on hatred. The performance concludes with reports of reconstruction and reconciliation which bring the audience to share a symbolic meal.
The performers are Naomi Grossett, Lelo Majozi-Motlogeloa, Jennifer Muteleli, Anna-Maria Nabirye, Grace Nyander and Susan Worsfold - all female, though this is not intentional (one male actor had to withdraw because of other commitments), and playing cross gender, race and colour. It is very much ensemble work and I cannot identify individuals but it includes particularly clear and intense performances from the actor beginning her roles as a coup leader, some magnificent singing from one soloist (music composed by Matthew Lee Knowles) and a powerful dance and mime sequence choreographed by Cécile Feza Bushidi.
Director/Designer Paul Burgess and his company offer an overload of information which offers neither the clarity of an historian or any facile solutions but reflects the complexity and chaos of reality. Their aim is to raises awareness and to show that this is not something happening far away and nothing to do with us. Their dedication results in a moving piece of work that explores the presentation of difficult and disturbing material in an original way.
Until 2nd May 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton