What’s it all about?
The action moves between Congo and London and focuses on Stef, the recently appointed co-ordinator of a cultural festival to raise awareness of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She has firsthand experience of working in DRC and passionately wants to make a difference.
Her festival is, however, increasingly beset with problems. She is having difficulty getting her Congolese co-workers to invest in the idea and even her governing board aren’t her allies. Place this alongside her sense of white, wealthy guilt and the problem becomes even weightier.
Woven through the comedy, political infighting and all too familiar middle management speak, playwright Adam Brace refuses to let us look away. The play is peppered with the history of the blood filled conflict and, in a stark scene towards the end of Act 1, takes an unflinching look at the problems faced in DRC today.
It’s also funny, irreverent and wildly ambitious. Hold onto your hats.
Who’s in it?
The ensemble cast is exceptional, many of them moving fluidly between multiple roles. Fiona Button, rarely off stage gives us a multi-layered Stef, desperate to make the festival happen, but increasingly losing sight of why.
Anna-Maria Nabirye, as the equally conflicted expat Anne-Marie, provides heart, soul and steel in equal measure.
Richard Goulding is ostensibly the comic relief (he gets the lion share of the Umbongo jokes) but also increasingly reflects our own bewilderment as the obstacles pile up and he learns quite how much he doesn’t know about the situation he has got himself into.
Special mention must go to Sule Rimi, resplendent in his bright pink suit, who embodies the incessant insistence of Stef’s mobile phone alerts. Or perhaps he represents her conscience. Or perhaps both.
What should I look out for?
A three piece band brings a fun swing to Act Two and there is an outstanding comedy scene from the rebel fighters attempting to film a threatening video. It is an absurdly funny moment made all the more poignant by the brutal underlying message.
Do take the handout that the theatre ushers will offer you as you exit. It’s a practical guide to more resources and information about the conflict.
In a nutshell?
Forget Umbongo, They Drink It In The Congo is one moment outrageously funny, the next sharply provocative. If you look for theatre that makes you question, then this is the play for you.
What are people saying on Twitter?
Wildly ambitious, meaty, vibrant, complicated, beautiful, lost #TheyDrinkItInTheCongo does something really vital – it doesn’t simplify
— Honour Bayes (@HonourBayes) August 24, 2016
— chloe kitching (@_ckitching) August 20, 2016
Will I like it?
There’s no doubt about it, this is theatre that demands something of you.
This is a complex play that raises complex issues and the production doesn’t shy away from that. It is a play of many ideas, sometimes sprawling and sometimes laser sharp, consistently humorous, startling and rambunctious.
It also forces us, the audience, to question ourselves, to ask why we are turning a blind eye to such an appalling conflict and what, if anything, can be done to help.
If you’re up for a meaty night at the theatre, that will have you hotly arguing every side of the debate on the tube home, then this is one show for you.
They Drink It In the Congo Runs at the Almeida Theatre until 1st October. For more information and to buy tickets head to the website here.