They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre - Review

© Marc Brenner

Europe and Africa have historically had a troubled relationship. From the days of colonialism to the days of independence, famine and civil wars, the African continent has long had associations of unrest and 'otherness' – an 'alien' quality that's never quite understood by the West. In They Drink It In The Congo at the Almeida Theatre, this tension between the guilt of the past and apprehension of the future, is palpable.

The play centres on a cultural festival for the Congolese residing in Britain, the brainchild of Stef (Fiona Button). She tries to make sure that at least one-third of committee members of Congolese descent, though there seems to always be impediments to this task.

One of Stef's staunchest allies is Annie Marie (Anna-Maria Nabirye) one of the more moderate UK Congolese diaspora, a cooler head than many of the community. However, Stef has her work cut out trying to organise a Congolese festival that is also has free from politics. As she's constantly reminded by the committee and the festival's detractors, one can't cleanly separate the Congo's culture from its history and politics. A flashback to her last visit there reveals why Stef feels compelled to do something positive for the Congolese in Britain and why Jenny (Kirsty Besterman) – a charity aid worker who she met in the Congo – might feel she is better suited to her role. The cataclysmic end of the first half cements in our minds the frightening reality of living in a state of civil unrest...

The band which is meant to represent the potential vibe part of the Congolese festival certainly adds buoyancy to the beginning of the second half, a momentary reprieve before getting down to brass tacks. Visions of the atrocities Stef witnessed in the Congo haunt her like Banquo's ghost, giving her no rest and spurring her on. But as history often tell us, a house divided is destined to fall and the 'politics' of the homeland casts a long shadow over its incensed expats. Asides from criticism from external sources, Stef has her soul-searching to do, as reputable figures challenge what she's trying to achieve. In the words of one such person, the Congo is a region where for centuries of conflict, the favourite 'weapon of choice' has been the systematic rape of women. Should this not be acknowledged as well?

'Worthy' plays that have a poiltical core and – dare I say it, has *something to say* – can be off-putting or exhilarating, depending on the deftness of the script and its execution. They Drink It In The Congo is firmly in the latter camp and a prime example of why theatre has an immediacy that is unique in all the Arts.

© Michael Davis 2016

They Drink It In The Congo runs at the Almeida Theatre until 1st August 2016.


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