The Drink It In The Congo, Almeida, review: ‘admirable and engaging, but an information overload’

Joan Iyiola and Anna-Maria Nabirye in They Drink It In The Congo. Picture: Marc Brenner

Joan Iyiola and Anna-Maria Nabirye in They Drink It In The Congo. Picture: Marc Brenner - Credit: Archant

Michael Longhurst’s production of Adam Brace’s play is a strikingly staged commentary on liberal guilt and cultural colonialism

Post-colonial turmoil, rival militias, and a fought-over mineral key to mobile phones and computers: just some of the complex problems in the Congo tackled by Adam Brace’s educational if sprawling three-hour play.

It intelligently reframes the region as far more than the subject of an Um Bongo jingle, but at the cost of streamlined theatre.

Stef, daughter of a wealthy Kenyan farmer, embodies liberal guilt, which she tries to assuage by organising an awareness-raising Congo Voice festival.

Multiple problems arise, from Kafkaesque committee meetings to death threats and arguments over who has the right to tell the Congo’s story.

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The latter – essentially cultural colonialism – is a subject Brace takes seriously, with meta commentary on storytellers and the voices we value.

A screen shows surtitles in both English and Lingala, reflecting a communication gulf and the intertwining of two nations: through our dependence on technology, we remain connected to this story, whether or not we – or our Government – acknowledge it.

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Michael Longhurst’s production is energetic and slick, but can’t quite reconcile the breakneck tonal shifts – from witty satire to a harrowing flashback.

The latter is strikingly staged, with Jon Bausor’s set caving in to produce the mining town where rape is wielded as a weapon of war, but it’s problematically used as a motivator for the white protagonist.

Though Stef is frequently exasperating, Fiona Button gives a strong central performance, and there are great supporting turns from Richard Goulding’s quipping PR, Anna-Maria Nabirye’s dignified refugee campaigner and Richie Campbell’s intimidating extremist, while the expressive Sule Rimi is outstanding as a spirit figure.

A live band provides rich accompaniment and a cracking gag.

An admirable and engaging piece, but information overload means it’s more effective as an introductory seminar than unforgettable drama.

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