New play at Almeida theatre to shine light on Congo conflict controversies
PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 August 2016
They Drink it in the Congo’s director Michael Longhurst talks about the task of bringing the play to Islington’s Almeida theatre
“This is a massive play and massive plays usually stay in drawers in literary managers’ offices because they’re a risk and a real investment.”
Director Michael Longhurst’s doesn’t undersell the task of taking on Adam Brace’s new play, They Drink It In The Congo. “We’ve got five weeks. We’ve got a rumba band. It’s a 12-handed cast with 40 or 50 characters.”
Despite the magnitude of this feat, Longhurst is confident in the Almeida Theatre’s ability to pull it off.
“They’re all about taking risks. It’s a huge endeavour but they’re interested in new plays that challenge and engage with the world. To really go for it is a great level of belief from the theatre.”
They Drink It In The Congo, by playwright Adam Brace, follows an attempt by Stef, a white, privileged NGO worker, to organise a festival that celebrates Congolese culture to raise awareness for the conflict. It charts her efforts in trying to engage with the Congolese Diaspora in London.
“Adam is very conscious of his white lens,” says Longhurst. “There’s a huge self-conscious parallel between the narrative of the play, which is putting on a festival to raise awareness, and the act of staging a play about the Congo at the Almeida.”
He acknowledges that a certain type of play can “make a white, middle-class audience squeeze out a lot of tears about an issue”, but asks: “What can we do and what is the right form?”
Longhurst’s directorial career has taken him to the West End and Broadway, working on plays with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.
This will be his latest endeavour with Adam Brace, following a roaring success with the playwright’s full-length debut, Stovepipe, which was produced in collaboration with the National Theatre in 2009.
He took to the director’s chair while studying philosophy at Nottingham University.
“I had acted at school in major lead roles and went to university and was suddenly fifth spearman. It took a moment to realise I was surrounded by an incredibly talented student drama group that had people such as Ruth Wilson in it.”
“I started directing and I got the bug. I found that if you give a good note to a good actor, an amazing thing happens.”
They Drink It In The Congo opens at the Almeida Theatre on August 12 and runs until October 1. Tickets are available at almeida.co.uk