The Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf is an uncannily appropriate venue for Katrina. The calm, orderly riverbank and festivity of the restaurants and bars feels like New Orleans pre-hurricane; once inside The Bargehouse, its five floors of dilapidation, peeling paint and neglect is a powerful reminder that a nasty shock once hit Party Town.
Katrina is writer and director Jonathan Holmes' compilation of verbatim testimonies from 2005's Hurricane Katrina victims, mixed with broadcast news from the disaster. That is the power of Katrina: New Orleans people (and tourists) trapped in the flooded city, neglected and abused by their own government. Their suffering, indignities, frustrations and triumphs are horrifying and terrifically performed by a cast who unflinchingly and unfalteringly portray the outrages of America's largest disaster. They're also all wonderful singers particularly Wunmi Mosaku as Miranda, and Andrew Dennis makes a convincing Southern preacher, making the top floor funeral ring with his hellfire shouting.
Audiences will be moved by Beatrice carrying her lover's dead body through the water for several gruelling days, the tourists tricked by a lying police commander, the prisoner trapped on a highway with hundreds of others without food, water or shelter... however, the production hovers between Punchdrunk roam-at-will anarchy and an orderly, carefully timed conventional promenade performance. This creates much awkward shuffling and loitering, dissipating any anger, indignation and urgency built up in the long scenes. The slow group exodus from the Funky Butt bar was anti-climactic, despite the immersive set and howls of the hurricane rattling the doorframe.
Katrina ends with a-singing and a-hollering, dissolving any tension and awkwardness, establishing Katrina as a rare and special, site-specific chance for the voices of New Orleans to ring out, raw, angry but unbroken, and at last, to be heard.
Katrina by The Jericho House at The Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf until 26 September. For more information and tickets, go to the website.
Image by Thierry Bal