They Drink It In The Congo – review
Almeida Theatre

Published: Sunday, August 28, 2016 2:41 PM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
Richie Campbell and Tosin Cole - credit Marc Brenner Richie Campbell and Tosin Cole - credit Marc Brenner

Trouser dropping and corking one liners offer some light relief from the weighty subject matter. This comedic tone prevents the show from being a diatribe, whilst still revealing some of the most shocking aspects of the Congo landscape.


Adam Brace’s provocative new play offers the media driven first world a shrewd hit of post imperialist reality. English rose Stef has grand plans to launch a festival celebrating Congolese culture in London. But despite the government funding, Congo Voice is thwarted at every turn, not least by sections of the Congolese community. Military group Les Combatant plan to overturn Kabila’s government and view the festival as propaganda. Amidst the hatched plots and forged alliances, the play strives to give an insight into the Congolese problem. Adroitly directed by Michael Longhurst, the production forces the audience to go beyond the box drink puns. It also poses a vital question. With all the information of the technological age at our fingertips, what do we really know about the Congo?


By setting the play in London, They Drink It In The Congo aptly demonstrates the barriers to understanding a country which is not your own. For all her good intentions, Stef is unable to truly comprehend the complexities of London’s Congolese diaspora. Her efforts to raise awareness inevitably come across as patronising when relayed in her cut glass tones. Fiona Button is superb as the Kenyan born philanthropist, both vulnerable and tenacious. She is mirrored by the noble Anna-Maria Nabirye as Anne-Marie. Both educated business women, Anne Marie supports Stef, but as a Congolese migrant, knows the danger that Stef has placed herself in.


Sule Rimi Congo - credit Marc Brenner Sule Rimi, Congo - credit Marc Brenner

This is not a feel good production, nor should it be. It challenges the audience to educate itself about this country and quashes all links with dancing hippos.

A key theme of the production is the ravaging of the Congo’s resources, in particular coltan which is found in every wireless device. Sule Rimi personifies this as puckish character Oudry, dressed in a bowler and three piece in florid pink. A fusion of London and Congolese imagery, Oudry demonstrates the constant presence of the Congo in our technology fuelled lives. Invisible to the cast, Rimi often steals the show as he announces “Telephone call” in his deep rolling bass. Another canny creative device is the use of Lingala subtitles which flash up onscreen when the Congolese characters slip into British accents. In this way, Brace brilliantly demonstrates the exchangeability of roles between natives and immigrants.


Surprisingly, the play contains some incredibly funny moments, especially between Stef and her ex-boyfriend Tony. Trouser dropping and corking one liners offer some light relief from the weighty subject matter. This comedic tone prevents the show from being a diatribe, whilst still revealing some of the most shocking aspects of the Congo landscape. A well placed scene involves the well-meaning Tony being given a Congo 101 lesson. Going back to the thirteenth century, the audience hears the abuse that the Congo has suffered at the hands of rubber, palm oil, gold and slave traders. Although set primarily in London, the first act’s final scene transports us to the Congo, where we see the Congolese workers mining for coltan in the stifling heat of the central African sun.


They Drink It In The Congo cast - credit Marc Brenner They Drink It In The Congo cast - credit Marc Brenner

It is impossible to depict the extent of the Congolese problem in a two and half hour play. But this production admirably uncovers the top soil of the situation. Expounding the political, cultural and military obstacles which make up the country’s reality. It also touches upon the brilliant aspects of Congolese culture; the sense of community, flamboyant costume and stirring music which is provided by the show’s three piece band. This is not a feel good production, nor should it be. It challenges the audience to educate itself about this country and quashes all links with dancing hippos. It also entreats theatregoers to consider how their gadgets fuel the Congo’s poverty and land wards. Finally, it shows us that the Congo is not simply a concept, it is a place full of people just like ourselves.


They Drink It In The Congo cast - credit Marc Brenner They Drink It In The Congo cast - credit Marc Brenner

Info: They Drink It In The Congo is at the Almeida Theatre until October 1, 2016 | Book tickets | Read the Afridiziak e-news: An Anarchic new play with live Congolese music and enough punch for everyone - They Drink It In The Congo






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