BANG BANG BANG
Curve, Leicester, Tuesday 4th October, 2011
Bang! Stella Feehily’s new play gets off to an electrifying start. Two young women, one Irish, the other French find themselves held at gunpoint by an African soldier. Instantly, the audience is thrown into the dangerous and unpredictable world of aids workers in the Congo. Confusion and shouting. Violence and peril. It is a breath-taking opening scene.
Bang! Suddenly it is one month earlier and we’re in the Islington flat of Irish aid worker, Sadbh (Orla Fitzgerald), and her long-suffering boyfriend. He wants to settle down and breed. She can’t let down the organisation she works for. She carries the weight of the African continent on her shoulders and it gets in the way of her personal life. This shows us Sadbh’s passion and commitment as a humanitarian, but we don’t need to see this couple having the same conversation over and again as the play progresses. There is no choice for Sadbh. She is not torn between love and work. For her there is only course of action, so the scenes in which she strings the poor bloke along, making promises she won’t keep, don’t really hook us in.
Bang! At the refuge in the Congo, a girl with an automatic rifle robs them of an Adidas hoodie. The only point of reference they share is the names of some footballers. I presume this is what happened. I don’t know about football. She would have shot me.
There is a lot of French dialogue, included for authenticity I suppose, but I wonder if non-Francophones in the audience were missing out. I may not know football but I got Grade B in A Level French, so I’m all right, Jacques.
The scenes in the Congo are the highlights of Max Stafford-Clark’s production but their intensity is diminished by the more domestic scenes of Sadbh’s personal life. I didn’t care if she was hungover – even after Jägerbombs and vodka, she was still a little too preachy and hard-faced. There was very little vulnerability to the character. We can admire her passion for the cause but I found it difficult to engage with her as a person.
The cast is very strong across the board. Particular standouts were Babou Ceesay as a warlord with a veneer of civility, Frances Ashman as a range of characters including a heartbreaking cameo as a desperate woman with a sick baby and Jack Farthing as fish-out-of-water photo-journalist Vin.
The set makes efficient use of sliding and folding metal panels to create different spaces and the lighting design by Johanna Town evokes the heat of the African sun as well as the dinginess of the back end of a bar in Dublin.
The horrors perpetrated against the women and children of the Congo are not graphically presented and the play is all the better for it. There is a sensitive scene in which a child whispers her testimony in the ear of a translator that is all the more powerful for keeping us at one remove from the story. The scene comes to be about the work of recording the account rather than the portrayal of the trauma.
But is there anyone more unlikable than the passionate do-gooder? Sabdh’s earnestness and frustration with anyone who doesn’t share her drive hardens her to the point that I didn’t care about what might happen to her.
The final image of the girl who was rescued playing with a rudimentary toy gun, which she then points at the audience, suggests that the problems in the Congo are going to continue at least into the next generation.
An intense but patchy experience, Bang Bang Bang is well worth a shot.