Pros: Powerful, gripping and humorous. Performed by a hugely talented artist.
Cons: The increasingly angry and moral tone towards the end.
A dictatorial president eats a local farmer’s cow, provoking the farmer to seek justice via the help of an ‘Afro-Saxon’ lawyer. The lawyer however, a culturally confused individual with an almost lecherous love for Shakespeare and the ‘Western canon of enlightened thinking’, turns out to be the worst person to ask.
As part of the Tristan Bates Theatre’s FIRST Festival of Solo Performances, Sierra Leonean Patrice Naiambana takes his audience on a turbulent tour of a fictional African country named Lion Mountain, painting a vivid and darkly comic picture of the issues facing the country and the continent. It is an ambitious undertaking to explore the momentous problems that Africa has to deal with in a two-hour show, but Naiambana seems to cover it all – corruption, dependency on foreign aid, the international power given to rulers through diamonds and oil and the spectre of colonialism that still haunts countries today. It is a powerful and deeply moving performance, made even more urgent and expressive by Naiambana breaking the fourth wall and involving his audience, most notably when a flashlight shines around us, blinding us and putting us literally, ‘on the spot’.
The piece calls for a seriously talented actor to embody the various characters; a desperate peasant, a lofty lawyer, a corrupt ruler and a brutal terrorist. Naiambana does this with wit, versatility and humour, not to mention smooth transitions between African and Oxbridge accents. The show moves quickly in and out of hilarity and deadly seriousness, as it goes from a monologue in admiration of buttocks to a pregnant woman’s belly being slashed open in a horrific bet to find out whether she is carrying a boy or a girl.
While I hugely enjoyed the first half of the show, which was packed with humour to avoid it becoming preachy, I can’t really say the same for the second part. It did not lose any of its quick-wittedness, but I did feel as though it became somewhat of an increasingly angry rant. Not to say that the anger at European meddling in Africa is not justified, but I thought that while in the first part, Naiambana invites his audience to explore the issues at hand and question the dominant narrative, the second half, for me, became overly moralizing and intense. It could also be that the performance just became a bit too long, and thereby lost some of its zest. For the most part, though, The Man Who Committed Thought is a bundle of energy and relevant questioning, and a real achievement by one talented actor.
Director: Patrice Naiambana
Booking until: 9th April 2014
Box office: 020 7240 6283
Booking link: http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk