Review: They Drink It In The Congo

They Drink It In The Congo ★★★☆☆

By Chris Bridges Last edited 26 months ago

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Review: They Drink It In The Congo They Drink It In The Congo 3

Let’s get this out of the way. In spite of the title alluding to the catchy television advert, this is not a play about hippos dancing dainty tangos. There’s not a marmoset in sight, or Um Bongo on sale, more’s the pity.

The Congo has a terrible record for human rights, and there’s a war raging there that you probably know less about than you should. Adam Brace’s play considers why we know so little, and what we can do to help — and why we do or don’t do it. (Hint: middle-class guilt versus the fact that the Congo has the world’s largest supply of coltan, a material thats's essential in making mobile phones and laptops).

The thinly-drawn characters here are staging a gig to highlight these issues. It’s a comedy about white middle-class liberals and Congolese people, written and directed by white men and acted by a cast with black actors of whom none are Congolese, performed for predominantly white middle-class audiences. This isn’t lack of self-awareness but an intentional satire which the creative team are part of. Sadly though, the play could have done with being meatier rather than ‘meta’.

The first 50 minutes limps along like a pale imitation of the BBC’s Twenty Twelve, before an explosive change of tone helped by Jon Bausor’s cunning set. It’s a series of scenes of a group of people planning a festival and it’s as dull as it sounds. The characters are weak and there’s sparse dramatic tension. The humour feels heavy-handed and flits between twee and coarse.

When the drama comes, it’s often blunted by a soap opera edge that dissipates the power of the story: mother and daughter clashing, ex-boyfriend yearning for a reunion, nervous illegal immigrant. So far, so EastEnders.

Where the play flourishes is in the subtly devastating asides that are dropped in. A woman casually mentions being raped, a Zoot-suited spectre stalks a character’s sub-conscious and guilt, pain and yearning bubble below the surface. When it works, it works well, but rather than a madcap blend of humour, riotous music and underlying horror, it’s often just maddening.

There’s huge potential here and we're holding out for better work from Brace and director Michael Longhurst.

They Drink It in The Congo continues at Almeida Theatre until 1 October 2016. Tickets are £10-38. Londonist attended on a press ticket.

Last Updated 31 August 2016