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Tales From The Motherland Presents

Another Biafra

 

 

Written and directed by Anthony Abuah

 

Rosemary Branch Theatre

 

Feb. 1 - 20 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by Richard J Thornton

Another Biafra is a theatrical examination of how the people of the Niger Delta are being exploited by both the Nigerian government and international oil companies in a battle over Nigeria's most lucrative resource. Sound a little dry? Well, it is a little, and that's a shame because Anthony Abuah's script is perceptive and engaging, and is only let down via impotent direction, which, paradoxically, comes from Abuah himself.

The story is simple enough: British journalist, Eric, seeks to help the sufferers in the Niger Delta (formerly Biafra) by interviewing the Nigerian president and the head of Shell and exposing their corruption and irresponsibility. While living in the delta he befriends Apori, a former militant rebel leader turned Malcolm X-like pacifist who is organising a non-violent rally against the government. Meanwhile, Apori's pregnant wife, Uwa urges him to desist his politics in favour of her love as an American journalist, Karen, urges him take her to meet the local militia.

Primarily, the piece highlights the injustice endured by the people of Biafra, and the power of fighting for your ideals in what seem to be hopeless scenarios. On a secondary level, it explores the eternal dilemma felt by idealists: risk your life for your beliefs, or ensure your safety to protect your own family. Yet, despite being interrogated by the script, the production fails to press the emotions of these issues into the hearts of the audience.

The most apparent reason for this failure is weak direction. There is a frozen gap between the actor's characterisation and the audience's reception. It seems as if, after writing the script, Abuah fell so deep into finding his own character, Apori, that he neglected his directorial duty to his fellow actors. Daniel Simpson's Eric is wooden and self-conscious, Onosky Ujorha's Presdient lacks the menace of an African dictator, and Natalie Imlay's Karen feels over-positioned and over-articulated. Perhaps, in fact, it is Abuah's megalomania which has stilted the piece's naturalism, and the actors weren't given enough space to discover their own response to their characters.

In comparison, Apori and Uwa's relationship is determinedly natural and engaging. It is the most honest and human thing on stage, and noticeably supersedes the other interactions in intensity and emotion. Marlene Nwoye's Uwa is a startling representation of the woman scorned, and acted with an unassuming confidence that draws the audience deep into her sorrowful presence. It seems as if both writer/director and actor Abuah has lived these domestic scenes, whereas the others have been pulled from a stereotype dictionary of 'colonial-journalist-feels-pity-for-natives' or 'brash-American-naively-fails-to-understand-other-cultures'.

The set was authentic but clunky, and the changes felt unprofessional and under-rehearsed, but this upset can be explained by the play's lack of an individual designer. Peter Ferret's lighting was smooth and dramatic, successfully creating mystery and tension in the rebel scenes, and shedding a blank hopeless light into the office of the corrupt president and his giggling female aide. Overall the aesthetic is what you'd expect from an under-funded black box, but without the minimally-led creativity that partners it.

Another Biafra holds an important message, but sadly, the message is transmitted through ramshackle acting and indecisive direction. The ideas of the play deserved to be aired, and perhaps an independent director would carve a new mould for Abuah's vision and enliven the script with a stronger theatrical technique. If you're interested in the destitution of former Biafra, and you should be, the play will offer you a considered insight; if you're searching for sparkling new theatre your might need to wait till the play gets a directorial make-over.

 


Box Office: www.talesfromthemotherland.com / 020 7704 2730

Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Rd
London N1 3DT

1st – 20th February, Tuesday-Sunday 7.30pm,  Matinees Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm 

Tickets: £12/10, all tickets £7 on Tuesday

 

 

 

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