Pros: Strong script with an in depth and engaging exploration of a difficult subject.
Cons: The character of Charles could have been developed further. To be honest, I was struggling to think of a con here.
Sense of an Ending explores how a nation dealt with retribution, forgiveness and reconciliation after the Rwandan Genocide. In 1994 mass violence erupted in Rwanda. The violence occurred largely along ethnic lines, with the majority Hutu population attacking the minority Tutsi population. Sense of an Ending explores how Rwandans dealt with their grief, and how they have continued to co-exist following the atrocities of genocide. This thought provoking and moving play had an ambivalent message. Indeed, Sense of an Ending approaches a difficult subject with sensitive sophistication, seeking nuanced answers to complex questions rather than parcelling out blame.
Five years after the genocide Charles (Ben Onwukwe), a disgraced journalist from the New York Times, travelled to Rwanda. He planned to shed new light on the events of 1994 by revealing the truth about two nuns’ involvement in a massacre inside their church. The nuns were facing trial for homicide and crimes against humanity. Charles suspected that the nuns’ story was one of greater innocence than they had been afforded, but the truth transpired to be more complex than he had ever suspected.
The play was accessible even if you knew nothing about the Rwandan Genocide. Urban wove background information and detail into the script, without making the performance feel like a history lesson. Indeed, Urban successfully highlighted that there was, in fact, no clear-cut divide between Hutu and Tutsi groups. At one point Charles asks Paul if he is Tutsi. Paul protests that he is Rwandan, revealing that there were complex identity politics at play.
Each of the play’s characters had a complex story. The experiences of Sister Justina (Lynette Clark), Sister Alice (Akiya Henry), member of The Rwandan Patriotic Front Paul (Abubakar Sakim), and Tutsi survivor Dusabi (Kevin Golding) all interconnect. The playwright (Ken Urban) did not shy away from difficult themes, but neither did he simplistically blame any evil perpetrator. Instead, he left it to the audience to unpick the story, reflecting the difficulty the global population faces in delivering justice for the genocide. The script therefore proved powerful.
Cecilia Carey’s set design interwove well with the script. When characters went ‘off stage’ they stood behind a translucent screen. The actors were out of focus, but never completely out of sight, suggesting that each character’s story was ever-present, if unclear.
The direction also proved effective. As the audience took their seats, Sister Justina and Sister Alice were swinging incense and singing “Jesus loves me this I know…”. From the outset the characters were seeking reassurance that God loved them, each trying to come to terms with a difficult past. The acting was impressive throughout. Akiya Henry gave a particularly intense performance as Sitter Alice, and Lynette Clark as Sister Justina shone in particular as the play progressed.
There is little to criticise about Sense of Ending. Perhaps Charles’ (the journalist) motivations were a little convoluted. He seemed to fluctuate from moral journalist, keen to prevent unjust punishment and shed new light on a highly loaded topic, to a self-interested man acting to save his own career. Charles’ reasons for being disgraced were not explored as well as they could have been. Though, any issues with Charles’ character were minimal and did not influence the story much, since Charles was largely a portal though which the audience experienced the other characters’ stories.
Sense of an Ending was a sensitive, sophisticated and thought-provoking exploration of the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide. I thoroughly recommend seeing this play.
Author: Ken Urban
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Booking Until: 6 June 2015
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/