We are Proud to Present, Bush Theatre - review

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 4:22 PM | Review by: Gillian Fisher |
We Are Proud to Present We Are Proud to Present

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s new play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915, is an ingenuitive examination of the longevity of prejudice and the powerful influence of the past upon the present. The colonisation of Namibia by Germany between 1884 and 1915 is one of our countless overlooked genocides resigned to the history books. Until six young actors (the most reflective species on the planet) give a presentation upon the Namibian Herero. Cleverly using the backdrop of rehearsal room improv and deconstruction, Sibblies Drury cannily demonstrates how easily the line between drama and reality can become blurred. The ensemble is extremely earnest and desperate to get their point across, but as six opinionated individuals they struggle to agree upon what that point is. Whatever their final piece about the Herero technically is; overview, history lesson, presentation or lecture, they are incredibly proud to present it.

We Are Proud to Present… is often amusing, frequently provocative and occasionally horrifying.

The six player ensemble gives a consistently strong and energetic performance. As actors playing actors they exhibit the most hyperbolic thespian behaviours with authenticity. This is extended by the immediacy of seeing the cast produce their own sound effects with watering cans and crumpled plastic. The premise is that Actor 6 played by Ayesha Antoine, opened a magazine and saw her grandmother’s face staring back at her.

Upon reading the article, Actor 6, who cast herself as ‘Black Woman’ in the piece, decided to create a presentation upon the Herero. Antoine is haughty in the role; occasionally defensive and for the most part, eager to get to the truth behind the Herero’s ultimate massacre. Whilst they’ve Wikipediad the details, the group want first-hand accounts of the 31 years, and have located letters from German soldiers during the occupation. As prologue becomes process, Actor 1, playing ‘White Man’ takes on the persona of the letter writer; a German soldier writing to his beloved, apparently called Sarah. Actor 1 is played by Joseph Arkley; emphatic and sensitive, his main motivation is the universal humanity within the letter. ‘Sarah’ is portrayed by Actor 5, Kirsty Oswald. The epitome of a young luvvie she is ditsy, easily engrossed in the moment and has a tendency to burst into song.

We Are Proud to Present We Are Proud to Present

Direction by Gbolahan Obisesan is stylised; the apparent confusion of the group is carefully engineered to reflect the variety of perspectives. When the scenes descend into intensity, the direction enables the actors to achieve incredible poignancy. There is a lot of comedy in the production, largely due to the improv skits involving exaggerated accents and outdated stereotypes. Actor 4 is the joker of the group. Playing ‘Another Black Man’ Isaac Ssebandeke is a well-meaning and upbeat character. Excited to be a part of the project he often adds some much needed laughter to the proceedings. ‘Black Man’ played by Actor 2 is the most frustrated of the group, he is incensed that the only source materials are from the German perspective.

Played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, this actor feels an affinity with the tribe and considers it his exclusive right to be angry about the lack of first-hand information. Satire is a recurrent theme of the play, presenting figures such as house fraus and tribal princes cleverly exposes our narrow perceptions of nationalities outside our own. Actor 3 gives a phenomenally clichéd rendition of a West Indian grandmother, complete with wooden spoon. Joshua Hill makes his stage debut as ‘Another White Man’ and is an accommodating and thoughtful character, interested in an expansive view of the period.

We Are Proud to Present We Are Proud to Present

This production manages to be hugely informative as well as theatrical. That 80 per cent of the Herero died during the German occupation is a shocking reality and an uncommon focus for a dramatic work. The cast work excellently as an ensemble; in particular their ability to switch between characters is highly adept. The rehearsal scenario is incredibly creative but at times the conversations are a little too realistic in that they become repetitive and momentum can be lost. The universality and prevalence of one group of people wielding control over another is intelligently depicted and seamlessly acted. We Are Proud to Present… is often amusing, frequently provocative and occasionally horrifying.

Info: We Are Proud to Present is at the Bush Theatre until April 12th, 2014 / book tickets

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