Two young European women face a horrific situation in a compound in the Democratic Republic of Congo. One is hysterical with liquid fear; the other desperately tries to hold together a situation that is out of control. So starts London-born Irish playwright Stella Freehily’s perceptive, and at times devastating, new play, Bang Bang Bang.
Simple right-and-wrong scenarios end with this frightening epilogue however as Freehily, over two short acts, outlines the ambiguities of western aid and media attention in developing world trouble spots. That she does this with a healthy dollop and a complete lack of cultural judgement proves the skill of the writing at display here.
Sadhbh, played by Orla Fitzgerald, is a late twenty-something NGO researcher, a focused and competent aid worker who is stuck in limbo between a professional obsession and the hope of a future with a, frankly, flaky lover. The play turns on her efforts to reconcile the importance of her work with the complete dislocation it has with western life. Along the way, with the action moving from London to the Congo to Ireland, Freehily opens the can of worms that is the shifting international world of war and aid.
Freehily interviewed dozens of experts in this field as research for the play and the result, for those not from the NGO world at least, is an atmosphere of realism. The pettiness of bourgeois London life when compared to the horror and hedonism of expat Congo chimes, and the portrayal of victims, especially of rape, is nuanced and admirable.
The small cast, with much part switching, handles the fast pace well. Orla Fiztgerald is a cut above as Sadhbh with a convincing combination of mental strength and emotional doubt. Jack Farthing makes a good but uncomfortable cameo as self-seeking young photographer Vin and Julie Dray mostly sparkles as the naive, idealistic Mathilde. But it is the writing, supported by a tight unfussy production (with a swinging soundtrack of hip-shaking southern African music too) that gives Bang Bang Bang zing and the play is all the better for its open, unvarnished ending.