Writer: Nick Makoha
Director: Roy Alexander Weise
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Tell me if this sounds familiar: aboard a ramshackle of a vehicle, tossing around the roads, life is at its most tentative. People flee pandemonium, as a country tears itself apart. Bribes, lies and any tactic is used to secure the safety of yourself or loved ones. This sounds current, a piece of theatre commenting on the modern day. When in reality it is an autobiographical piece pertaining to the collapse of Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda forty years ago.
Set primarily on a Matatu, a privately-owned minibus used to ferry people around Kenya, a variety of characters intertwine with those of four-year-old Makoha and his mother. Strewn around them are the dust and bullets of which they cannot feast. Niki Makoha’s play is about this time, himself but more importantly, it is a thank you to his mother.
Akira Henry may primarily play Mother, but she also portrays every other character regardless of age or gender. The same is true for Michael Balogun, these performers talent is unquestionable. Balogun’s diverse range, including a warming discussion with the audience prior to the plays start, is compelling. It is Henry though, who portrays the ailing gentleman, a British government worker but chiefly Makoha’s mother sensationally.
Amidst the shadows, all hearts return to the darkness whence they came. We do not know these people’s past nor do we know their future. We only know the present as they emerge into the light of others to flee. Makoha’s writing gives a face to shiftless images we often see yet so rarely give attention. The people of Uganda in The Dark are not statistics, these are people – faces given to refugees.
We see these faces in the bushes, aboard the bus and under the barricades. Designed by Rajha Shakiry, Neill Brinkworth and Duramaney Kamara all of whom bring realness to the production. Each element of sound or lighting brings methodical yet engaging balance.
For everything we see or experience, it is the final moments that are most striking. The response of escaping for one’s future to border control within Heathrow. The pandering raised eyebrows and knowing that regardless of commitment, desire or ethic – this will not be your home for certain individuals.
It is no wonder that Makoha is a poet, his use of language throughout The Dark is soul-wrenching. The imagery of the idiocy of builders, workers who build things up as the world tries to tear them down, is sublime. The only minor critique is to the number of characters, in an effort to paint a wide range of faces – one or two blends into the other, losing our attention momentarily.
Upon entering we are told by Balogun to close our eyes. As we open them, we are still surrounded by darkness. As characters fade in and out of focus, lost in the twilight, we edge closer to the stage. The Dark gives an account of history many of white middle-class audiences will find lost upon them. They may know the story, but The Dark gives the tiniest morsel of what it was like to live it. A stellar production which offers sinew, muscle and heart to Makoha’s (among others’) story.
Reviewed on 13 February 2019 then touring | Image: Contributed