A Religious Experience: Our Lady Of Kibeho At Stratford East

Our Lady of Kibeho, Stratford East ★★★★☆

A Religious Experience: Our Lady Of Kibeho At Stratford East Our Lady of Kibeho, Stratford East 4
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Our Lady has appeared in Portugal, in France... why not Kibeho?

American playwright Katori Hall’s faithful telling of the remarkable story of the Kibeho apparitions comes to Stratford East. A trinity of schoolgirls at Kibeho College in a small Rwandan village first reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981; their visions foretold cataclysmic death and destruction, hatred and slaughter. Just over a decade later, up to 1 million members of the Tutsi tribe were massacred by Hutu militias in one of the most horrific organised genocidal acts of recent history.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Our Lady of Kibeho shows the mounting resentment between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes and carries echoes of the colonisation which first sowed seeds of resentment between Rwandan tribes. The footprint of Belgian colonisation is stamped heavily on this community of Africans who speak French and practice Catholicism. Hall’s script is never too on-the-nose however — she implies rather than posits an examination of European colonisation as the root of the civil war and genocide.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

For a play that takes on such serious subjects as genocide and religion, it is frequently very funny — a testament to its excellent cast. Michelle Asante’s stern nun, sister Evangelique and Pepter Lunkuse’s feisty Marie-Clare are particular highlights. Original visionary Alphonsine is played with a sublime artlessness by Taz Munya, who is fresh out of drama school. The supporting cast as a whole breathe life into the play with almost constant music and dance, a symbolic blend of Catholic hymn and African movement.

Jonathan Fensom’s naturalistic set is unambitious but for the projected elements which show those ghosts of the future, haunting photographs of the genocide victims.

Hall’s world-building is so detailed that it transports you this pre-cataclysmic world, with moments that make the hairs on your arms stand on end.

Our Lady of Kibeho, Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, E15 1BN. Tickets £10-35, until 2 November 2019.

Last Updated 03 October 2019