Bang Bang Bang: A Northcott Review

Razz writer, Erin Mathias gives her thoughts on Northcott’s recent showing of Bang Bang Bang…

Bang Bang Bang is an ambitious exploration into the experiences of passionate humanitarian worker, Sadhbh and her naïve apprentice, Mathilde in their stint as aid-workers to the brutal Democratic Republic of Congo. The play opens with a bang, diving headfirst into the centre of the plot, where a Congolese soldier holds the women at gunpoint. He screams, “Déshabillez-vous!” (much of the dialogue is, suitably, in French) and, overcome by terror, these women are certain of one thing: their human rights mission has come to a screeching halt and their lives are at stake. By opening on this cliffhanger, Stella Feehily highlights a key question, which lingers throughout the play: how much of your own life can you risk for the tiny possibility of making a difference to someone other than yourself? This question is embodied in the dedicated and driven central character, Sadhbh, as she is faced with her own internal struggle: does she choose a comfortable life with her partner, Stephen? Or does she continue to work as an aid worker in Congo, sacrificing any possibility of a settled life?

Orla Fitzerald plays Sadhbh believably and dynamically. The scene where we first meet her and her partner, Stephen, is particularly striking. The dynamics of their relationship are spot-on as they argue about her job and its limitations. As Stephen (a comical performance from Dan Fredenburgh) expresses his frustration, he draws both sympathy and annoyance from the audience. Sadhbh’s stubbornness breeds a similar response. Stephen’s line, “Think like a human being, not a humanitarian” summarises the dilemma faced by Sadhbh, and it is lines like these that linger as the scope of the play narrows as it becomes less about Congo and more about Sadhbh’s battle with her conscience. It is impressive how Feehily incorporates humour into the characters’ relationship, thereby softening matters that are in fact difficult to deal with. Max Stafford Clark’s direction perfectly portrays the characters’ clashing desires and they way in which they are mentally torn: the characters are physically close, then distant, switching from embraces and kisses to troubled head-in-hand stances. Sadhbh’s battle between lifelong loving companionship and moral-fuelled love is revealed as the central issue of the play.

Although I can appreciate Feehily’s bravery in her ambitious attempt to unearth a huge number of issues, I can’t help think that her main focus – an exploration of an Irishwoman’s conscience – seems somewhat weak and unimportant in the context of the DRC. It also means that some issues go underdeveloped and though apparently well researched, the play lacks much information about political issues. Indeed, we are presented with disturbing story of tiny Congolese, Amala (Pena Iiyambo). However, though her story is tragic, her tale is opened up no further than with a whisper into Mama Carolina’s ear. Her character and story serves only as a plot device to fuel Sadbhb’s emotional struggle. Sadhbh’s supporting characters were all well played, though they are somewhat limited as they were less deftly shaded.  Sadhbh’s meeting with Colonel Mburame is haunting and the tension of the scene resonates throughout the play. Babou Ceesay’s performance as the smarmy yet charismatic warlord was captivating; I was reminded of his smarminess upon every count of suffering throughout the rest of the play. The “press” – Ronan (Paul Hickey), the cynical journalist, and Vin (Jack Farthing), the naïve yet talented photographer – provide a light break from the darkness of the previous events, and they introduce much of the humour of the play. The party scene is well directed, and Andy Brown’s music and sound flawlessly managed. In this way, the grittiness of Congolese reality is highlighted when we are snapped back to the next scene.

Although I was impressed and engaged by the production and acting, there was one glitch in the plot that I can’t seem to let go of. It seems that Feehly’s play is slightly contradictory. One of her main themes is the corruptness of the media. Journalist Ronan is only interested in scooping up the white assistant, Mathilde’s, story of rape; Amala’s story passes him by.

But isn’t this similar to Feehly’s approach in writing the play? By focusing mainly on an Irishwoman’s internal struggle between her human, selfish desires and her heroic, moral motivations, she somehow goes against the point she aims to rebuff.  It seems that the story told isn’t the most important of the stories to be told. Direction, however, is impressive, and performances clear-eyed. The play, as a whole, is witty and human. However, though disguised as a politically informative piece of theatre, the play in fact predominantly deals with the Sadhbh’s own private and personal issues. It is this focus that left me somewhat confused as to who I was meant to feel sympathy for upon leaving the theatre.

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