Obama the Mamba, Lowry Theatre, Salford
Paul Vallely is visiting professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester and a senior research fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester. He writes on ethical, political and cultural issues. He has a fortnightly column in the Independent on Sunday and also writes for the New York Times and the Church Times. His latest book is Pope Francis – Untying the Knots. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Wednesday 31 October 2012
Mamba means crocodile in Swahili. It strikes first, with speed and without warning. It is not a nickname many would apply to Barack Obama, though Osma bin Laden might have disagreed about that.
But it is the tag that the people of Huruma slum in Kenya gave to George Hussein Obama, the halfbrother of the US President. Barack and George have different mothers but the same absentee father.
By interweaving their two stories playwright Kevin Fegan has created a clever vehicle through which to explore the contrasts and commonalities of the Brothers Obama and their very different lives in America and Africa.
The stories of the two men throw revealing light each on the other. George was, in his own words, a badass gangsta, mugging and robbing taxis. But after nine months in prison, he met a nice girl who reformed him into a community worker, running youth groups, recycling rubbish and coaching Huruma United to the national finals.
Fegan’s script time-shifts skilfully through George’s story providing the material for a virtuoso performance by Clifford Samuel who commands the unadorned dust-covered stage for more than 90 minutes without a break, supported only by the atmospheric percussive riffs of double bassist Michael Searl.
Samuel ranges back and forth, with subtle shifts in pace and mood, between childhood, lost days of drugs and drink, courtroom drama, the warmth of the slum community and the two elusive meetings between George and his famous American half-brother.
Where Fegan has been cleverest is in the unforced resonances he highlights between the “hope out of adversity” rhetoric of the two men, one addressing a nation, the other a youth football team. Had he written it just before Barack Obama’s first presidential race this might have been a story of parallel triumphs despite the accidents of birth.
But coming now, when President Obama’s audacity has soured into disappointment on so many issues, a more bitterly ironic dimension is added. The name Barack means blessing. “If he is your blessing,” George asks his family, “am I your curse?”
Life has turned out a deal more complicated than that, something Fegan exploits by having George draw interesting parallels between Africa and America, bribery and taxation, community and democracy, poverty and privilege. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, George’s African proverb tells us. But the second best time to plant one is now.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Games of Thrones actor Lena Headey makes emotional promise to her unborn daughter
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Eurovision 2015: The best moments from Australia's random entry to Lithuania's gay kiss
Clarkson, Hammond and May Live: Top Gear trio returns with a blend of fireworks, AC/DC and 'automotive pornography'
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland