Ballerina – The VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Anne-Sophie Marie

Director: James S Barnes

Set in an unnamed country in Francophone Africa, Ballerina sees British diplomat Colin Clutterbuck arrested by the local National Intelligence Agency and thrown into the cellars of a dingy jail. Guards, hideously masked and clad in black capes, mill around with ominous intent. Colin’s crime? Drawing on what she claims is a background in classical ballet, the unfortunate diplomat has set up a dance and music festival for the country’s rebellious youth. The nation’s authoritarian government, suspicious of anything that might provoke internal dissent and another coup, does not like it one bit.

Regrettably for Colin (Dominique Izabella Little) she does not possess the little bit of purple plastic that identifies accredited diplomatic staff. So, plead as she might, infamous local spy-catcher Pacifique Muamba (Edward Nkom channelling every menacing Bond villain ever seen) has no intention of letting her go. “We know who you work for” he roars at the terrified, cowering dancer.

But is Colin quite the innocent she claims to be? Why does her phone show frequent calls to local opposition politicians. And just why is there no online record of her performing, or even attending ballet school? In French Colin means Hake which, as the wily, gun toting, food loving Muamba points out, is a slippery fish with sharp teeth. Anticipate a brutal pas-de-deux between the two characters that brings with it distinct echoes of Africa’s colonial past.

Writer Anne-Sophie Marie makes an important point in Ballerina. Western colonialism and subsequent political interventions laid the foundations for the systemic corruption that afflicts some African countries. The brutality Muamba inflicts (and this play gets very brutal indeed) is a dark reflection of the violence inflicted on Africa by democracies in the northern hemisphere. But ultimately, what comes across in this sometimes confusing piece of polemic is a world view that feels as bleak and unforgiving as its central character. It will not be to everyone’s taste.

Runs until 5 February 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Brutal colonial drama

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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