'Bang Bang Bang'

An enraged, gun-toting soldier bursts into a compound in the Congo and threatens two humanitarian workers with rape -- and that's just the prologue. There's jeopardy aplenty in Stella Feehily's "Bang Bang Bang," but despite the impressive conviction of the cast in Max Stafford-Clark's production, the well-intentioned play delivers considerably less in the way of suspense.

An enraged, gun-toting soldier bursts into a compound in the Congo and threatens two humanitarian workers with rape — and that’s just the prologue. There’s jeopardy aplenty in Stella Feehily’s “Bang Bang Bang,” but despite the impressive conviction of the cast in Max Stafford-Clark’s production, the well-intentioned play delivers considerably less in the way of suspense.

Feehily’s focus is on the connections and the divide between the personal and political issues facing 29-year-old Irish human rights worker Sadhbh (Orla Fitzgerald), who is supremely dedicated to effecting change in the civil-wartorn Congo. She recognizes the reality of the dangerous circumstances surrounding everyone but she’s railing against making compromises. “Justice,” she argues, “takes time.”

Sadhbh’s attitudes and actions are seen in opposition to those of her new, younger co-worker Mathilde (Julie Dray). Not only is the latter considerably more openly emotional in her responses to the situations, she’s more idealistic.

There’s further division in Sadhbh’s life. Back home, her partner Stephen (Dan Fredenburgh), a former aid worker turned consultant, is issuing an ultimatum about their so-called relationship in which they barely see one another because she’s almost permanently away working. He’s also growing less convinced about the purity of her motives and his views force her to examine her priorities.

Well-researched though everything is, the scenes in the Congo of reported brutality, child soldiers and a meeting with a warlord lack tension because Feehily’s canvas is too broad. The net result is that despite urgent politics being kept at the forefront of the dialogue, they gradually slide into a backdrop for a less specific study of women’s priorities around career, partnerships and possible motherhood. Perfectly valid though that choice is, it’s too predictable to be engrossing.

Feehily also weakens her own argument and any dramatic tension by building her narrative around characters whose almost total naivety makes matters implausible. Yes, Mathilde is set up as a graduate with no direct experience in the field, but if she’s supposed to be a seriously engaged student why are her actions those of someone who has barely digested a single political idea? Similarly, self-serving wannabe war photographer Vin (nicely feckless Jack Farthing) is too close to a convenient caricature to carry dramatic weight.

Detailed, specific acting — the hallmark of director Max Stafford-Clark — polishes every possibility within Feehily’s dialogue. But even that authenticity cannot lift a play which is less than the sum of well-intentioned parts.

Bang Bang Bang

Royal Court Upstairs, London; 80 seats; £20 $31.50 top

Production

An Out of Joint, Royal Court, Curve Theater Leicester, The Octagon Bolton and Salisbury Playhouse co-production presentation of a play in two acts by Stella Feehily. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark.

Creative

Sets and costumes, Miriam Nabarro; lighting, Johanna Town; sound, Andy Smith; production stage manager, Richard Llewelyn. Opened, Oct. 14, 2011. Reviewed, Oct. 15. Running time, 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Sadhbh Orla Fitzgerald Mathilde Julie Dray Stephen Dan Fredenburgh Colonel Mburame Babou Ceesay Bibi, Mama CarolinaFrances Ashman Amala, child soldier Zara Brown Ronan, Michael Paul Hickey Vin Jack Farthing
With: Pena Iiyambo, Akleia Louis-Frederick, Jessica Richardson.

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