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Les Blancs

Published March 31, 2016

What’s it all about?

We’re in colonial Africa, a troubled land of good intentions and bad blood. The white inhabitants of a decrepit, underfunded mission hospital try to ‘aid’ the locals, most of whom don’t want their help. They want to govern themselves and many aren’t afraid to fight and slaughter to make their point.

Everyone has their own viewpoint and their own story. As a stranger and a prodigal son enter, so begins an exploration into race, westernisation, identity and control.

Who’s in it?

The exemplary Danny Sapani pours his soul into the role of Tshembe, the intelligent, articulate former local turned politician and businessman whose return home leaves him in turmoil; his new European ways clashing with his African heart, his longing for his new family struggling against his thirst to support his people. He is at once the most collected and violently divided character on the stage.

No-one should be surprised if his name is in the awards mix this time next year.

What should I look out for?

Director Yael Farber’s atmospheric scene setting. Even as you crack the door to the Olivier Theatre, you’re struck by the evocative scent of burning in the air. Ever present on stage traditional musicians, characters lurking in the shadows and a sinewy, lurching mystical Woman – the spirit of Africa? – combine to flavour this bubbling, fiery tagine of colonial tension.

Tim Lutkin’s lighting, which bathes the set in milky moonlight and summons the scorching African sun.

In a nutshell?

Atmospherics, arguments and a stunning Danny Sapani; Les Blancs takes you deep into the heart and mind of Africa, colonialisation and identity.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

Les Blancs is very much a play of ideas and atmosphere. Farber creates an all-consuming world with music, scent and Lutkin’s lush lighting in which tensions are ever present and rarely far from the surface.

As Sapani’s Tshembe struggles with his own identity – is he European or African, a singular entity or the product of centuries of heritage, a family man or a man of the people? – the characters that revolve around him offer and represent their own arguments about race, colonialisation and how to move forward. Or not.

If you want a show that will beguile you with its beauty while forcing you to evaluate every side of a discussion, Les Blancs will work for you.

Les Blancs if booking at the National Theatre until 2 June. You can book tickets through the theatre’s website.

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