Edinburgh Festival '99: Fringe Theatre - The Man Who Committed Thought

Assembly Rooms, Venue 3, 1.20pm, 0131-226 2428, to 30 Aug
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WHEN LAUGHTER is used to symbolise the patter of machine-gun fire, it creates a startling image of the way sadism fuses with violent political oppression. "Give any bastard a gun," it seems to say, "and he will thrive on its anarchic ability to transform the personal into the cruelly and triumphantly political." Actor Patrice Naiambana examines how violence works in a notional African country seething with corruption and double standards by portraying a series of characters who appeal variously to the law, Clinton, and the bullet to assert their power. Following the execution of Nigerian author, Ken Saro Wiwa, he asks what valid resistance - if any - an inherently corrupt country can offer against a dictator who gets off on bloodshed.

This production has interesting and ambitious aims, but suffers from trying to cover too much ground. Although Naiambana demonstrates a chameleon's talent for adopting shades of character ranging from oppressed African peasant-farmer to lawyer struggling with a stiff-starched colonial identity, his impressive range is undercut by a script that often descends into caricature.

As he moves around the piles of skulls heaped on the tiny stage, you find yourself looking for a better analysis of the questions of moral responsibility and power under an African dictator. If only Naiambana stopped taking short-cuts for the sake of entertainment, this could be a much better play.