The assassination of Patrice Lumumba is, arguably, one of the most important events in contemporary history, not only for Africa, but the entire world. Telling this story is no mean feat.
A Season in the Congo brings to life a story which has too often been left buried in the ground. Originally a play written in French in 1966 by Aimé Cesaire - considered to be one of the founders of the “negritude” movement – this modern adaptation sees director Joe Wright add a colourfulness and vibrancy, which tells the story in a most spectacular form.
As a young Congolese person who is often vocal about the singular stereotypical negative narrative and myopic misrepresentation of Congolese people, history and culture – and to a greater extent Africa - I had my reservations about the play before even going to see it. The mainstream reviews about the play were great, which only added to my reservations as, more often than not, the reviewers are rarely from, engaged with or involve the community whose story is being told.
This review is not intended to recount the story of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, rather analyse the production of a Season in the Congo, and perhaps bring to light some issues that may have been overlooked.
I sat down on Tuesday evening, in a theatre filled with mainly white British middle class, which was not surprising, in fact, I found it rather positive as it this story is reaching an audience who may not have necessarily heard it before.
The stage set was fantastic. It took the audience directly to Congo, and captured the atmosphere that was present during the struggle for independence at the time. Throughout the play some of the characters spoke in Lingala, which really helped to create an authentic feel.
Patrice Lumumba was brilliantly captured by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who delivered a passionate portrayal of the first Prime Minister of Congo. The leader’s zeal and effervescence shone through, only thing missing was the quieter, calmer side of his character, which Lumumba had but was so rarely portrayed.
The most haunting reincarnation however, was that of Joseph Mobutu played by actor Daniel Kaluuya whose portrayal possessed every fibre of the obsessive compulsiveness, greed, and power-hungry arrogance that existed in the former dictator’s body. The way Mobutu is develops throughout until he fills this role, is captured exceptionally well.
The supporting cast also deserve significant praise for their performance as they added much needed authenticity and context to the play. Many of the cast were Congolese, which made the play more genuine.
The play in general overcompensated for its brightness and colour, and did not add in the gloomy aspects of the Congolese independence movements. For the most part, you would be left questioning whether these people were happy or sad at what was going on.
The depiction of the western agencies; Belgium bankers, politicians, CIA, Mi5/6, etc, who initiated the plan to assassinate Lumumba - though this plan is left out of the play originally by Cesaire - as caricatures made their “evil” seem less threatening, almost less real, compared to the evil of the Congolese collaborators, who were portrayed in their regular form.
The true tense atmosphere of the times was captured in the last 10-15 mins of the play, in which the assassination of Patrice Lumumba was depicted as the execution of a Messiah, with the 12 followers, now betraying and washing their hands of him, Mobutu, standing boldly on the table looking arrogantly with self-satisfaction into a mirror.
It was a good play, very enjoyable, nonetheless, I feel it was catered more for those who are unfamiliar with the narrative, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as more people need to know about the story. However, if you are well read in the Congolese independence movement and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, you may leave feeling unsatisfied, though not insulted, save the last 10-15 minutes, which is the highlight of the play.
I am convinced this play will make a return to the stage in the near future. In the mean time, if you are interested in finding out more about the Congolese independence movement and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, I recommend the following:
Lumumba (The Movie) – 2000 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yyzmu3RbWpA
The Assassination of Patrice Lumumba (documentary) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtzfCMHX1Yg
The Assassination Patrice Lumumba (book) by Ludo De Witte - http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Assassination-Lumumba-Ludo-Witte/dp/1859844103/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377436325&sr=8-1&keywords=the+assassination+of+patrice+lumumba
MI6 and the Death of Patrice Lumumba - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22006446