THEATRE / London Fringe: An audience with the living dead
Wednesday 19 October 1994
The Ugandan dissident George Seremba recognised this. Lying in the Namanve Forest one December night in 1980, left for dead by a firing squad, Seremba said his prayers: 'My request was to live long enough to tell this tale.' He did live, and has fulfilled his promise, telling his story in a solo play, Come Good Rain, for the sake of all the other Ugandans who lost their lives.
For a member of the audience, his show (currently at the Tricycle) is in some ways a strange event: you come to it full of sympathy, respect - curiosity even, to see this man, who has faced his own death, reliving his ordeal. But Seremba displays neither self-pity nor bitterness. Rather, he tells his tale with a mixture of dignity and ebullience, determined to recreate for us the Uganda in which he grew up.
He bounds round the stage, slipping from one character to another, peopling the arena with characters from his past. His life was punctuated by the rise and fall of brutal leaders - Obote, Amin, Obote again - yet his love for his country is evident. He pays homage to the story-telling tradition of his people by prefacing his own tale with a proverb about a young girl left to die in the forest, and this proverb runs through the performance, indicating the source of his strength.
Throughout he enacts his experience, rather than simply telling you about it, and this works well except, ironically, at the crux of the story. When he talks about his torture at the hands of Obote's henchmen, his re-enactment of the blows he received detracts from the power of his words, which hold you on their own. 'The pain was getting more and more distant; now I was a little bird on a branch, watching,' he says of the torture, a delicate image that points up the horror of the experience.
The personal and the political are enmeshed too in Clare Bayley's powerful first play, Northern Light (New Grove Theatre). Bayley, an occasional writer and reviewer for the Independent, explores the relationship between Pamir, a Kurdish refugee trying to get asylum in Britain, and Laura, the solicitor's clerk trying to help him. It is skilfully structured using a double timescale and two parallel themes that finally dovetail. The story of the blossoming love between Laura and Pamir runs alongside that of Susie, Laura's sister, as she drives overnight up the M1 to find the place where Laura committed suicide. This is beautifully done and gives the love story a tender, elegiac quality, since we realise early on that the couple's happiness must be short-lived. The play has flaws - it is rather slow to start and, in Susie's story, there are too many similar scenes that don't advance the plot - but it raises many questions about what makes a victim and what makes a survivor, and Shabnam Shabazi's production features a lovely performance from Mozaffar Shafeie as Pamir.
In Arthur Schnitzler's historical play The Green Parakeet (Greenwich Studio Theatre), politics interrupts the characters' lives in the shape of the French Revolution. The piece is rather formulaic, and the characters are one-dimensional, but the production values are all that we've come to expect from this address, which is fast establishing itself as a fine producer of classics. There's strong ensemble acting; witty, intelligent direction; and a lovingly detailed set.
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