A Season in the Congo - Chiwetel Ejiofor as Patrice Lumumba and Joan Iyiola as Pauline Lumumba. Photo by Johan Persson
Director Joe Wright’s politically ballsy interpretation of A Season in the Congo explores the passion of Congolese activist, Patrice Lumumba who fought for the political, social, and economic, independence of the Congo in the 1960s – leading, unsurprisingly, to his assassination by a post-colonial western alliance and the dissolving of his body in acid.
Nigerian actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a rousing Lumumba
It is distinctly uncomfortable to watch a black cast wear pink, Pinocchio noses when they play the oppressors or Colonial powers, but it proves the point in subverting and caricaturing the competing paradigms on race and political approaches in forging the Congo. For more than a decade, conflict has ravaged the east of the country – killing more than five million people. And rather than its natural resources being an asset, it has become a curse in dividing the nation where life expectancy is a mere 48 years.
Lizzie Clachan's fantastic set of decaying, shoddy, infrastructure relays how the system fails to come together, particularly as the audience being seated in the swimming pool of Moise Tshombe, the Katangan secessionist leader, participates in the gawdiness and excess of splurging bling. The choreography by co-director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui directs the emotions of the audience from melancholy to sexual abandon, euphoria, and civil war.
What is more disturbing is how resonant the themes of tribal conflict, corruption, and western manipulation still feel now, despite over 50 years of political independence. Colonialists are English, American, and Russian - conveying the multifarious interests jostling for dominance of the Congo. Hints of the Wikileaks cables are referred to via the chattering of animal skulls as these superpowers converse amongst themselves on how to address this escalating problem of “independence”.
A strong ensemble cast whip together a chilling concoction of puppetry, chorus movement, and African proverbial wisdom (delivered by a stoic Kabongo Tshisensa, a Congolese musician). I just loved the toy parachutes that fluttered down at the front of the stage to signify the Belgian re- invasion, the huge political puppets that speak in rhyming verse to plan the downfall of the nascent Congo, and the tiny, figures being pulled across the stage that represent Europeans fleeing.
A Season in the Congo - Centre Chiwetel Ejiofor as Patrice Lumumba with the full Company. Photo by Johan Persson
Nigerian actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a rousing Lumumba who succumbs to pressure from his close friend, Joseph Mobutu, to promote him to colonel and chief of staff over Maurice Mpolo, the secretary of state for youth. Ultimately, Mobutu betrays Lumumba and succeeds as a brutal dictator for 32 years following his death. My only criticism of Ejiofor would have been for a more subtle performance as he shouts a lot. This political theatre is a male driven narrative by Martinique poet and dramatist Aimé Césaire, where women have little contribution in shaping that process. Foreseeing doom, Lumumba’s wife, Pauline, is reduced to a prophetess pleading with Lumumba to abandon his role as the first democratically elected prime minister and focus on the family. However, history describes her as a feisty partner, but this was not depicted in the production.
Lumumba is given Christ like status in the last scene which is imbued with the imagery of the last supper as his pummelled body is tossed round from one to another conspirator. Fulfilling the psychological archetypes of Africans as essentially corrupt, violent, and unable to govern themselves, we are left with a sense of despair. Driven by external meddling from the West, it is perturbing to watch the firing squad destroy one of its own and pave the way for a chaotic state that does not have peace today.
A Season in the Congo - full length trailer
A Season in the Congo - Courtesy of Youtube.com