A Season in the Congo: Powerful Theatre

Patrice Lumumba
Patrice Lumumba

I’ve had a relaxing and entertaining weekend.  I did some drawings, attended the Canary Wharf Jazz festival and was fortunate to see Chiwetel Ejiofor as Congo’s Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in “A Season in the Congo” by Aimé Césaire. BAFTA Award winning director Joe Wright directs the play.

I’ve always known Olivier Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor to be a great actor.  Along with a fine cast, his performance contributed to an engrossing play that successfully documents Congo’s path to democracy.

Patrice Lumumba served as the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo for less than three months in 1960, when it gained independence from Belgium. He was murdered by rebel troops (with growing evidence of Western support) soon after he won it.

The production places events of the early 1960s in a wider, historical and political context, capturing the paranoid atmosphere of cold-war politics between the Soviets and the US, the ineffectiveness and neutrality of the United Nations and the forgotten brutality of the Belgian colonialists.

The power and importance of theatre is definitely illustrated as it allows us to remember historical events we in the western hemisphere tend to forget.  It encourages us to understand the role of colonists in undermining the path to democracy and self -determination for African states.

My only upset is that the play doesn’t go far enough in referencing the extent of the Congolese holocaust, initiated by Leopold II of Belgium. Although the exact figure isn’t agreed, the consensus is that Belgian Colonists killed about 12 million Congolese in the 1900s. The Belgians left the nation in such a mess that after the country’s independence millions more died in a series of wars. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba left successive ineffective governments overseeing wars that have in total killed over 5.4 million people, mostly through disease and starvation. Congo has seen the biggest conflicts since World War II.

It’s fair to say Patrice Lumumba’s memory still haunts the country after 50 years. A Season in the Congo is a suitable tribute to a leader who held the hopes of what seems to be lost nation. The play runs until Aug 24th  at London’s Young Vic. For further details please visit http://www.youngvic.org/.

Well, looking forward to a busy and creative week ahead. Wishing you all a safe, happy and prosperous week.

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