The Overwhelming

Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark
Liverpool Everyman (26th-30th September 2006)

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

While looking down upon the Everyman stage moments before the beginning of this play, which dramatises the build up to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, it struck me how the atrocity has become a spectacle for audiences around the world. At least two films - one produced by the ever-caring Hollywood - and now this play have been created detailing the horrors that took place in a hellhole on earth.

Where does this desire to see the recreation of a massive bloodletting derive from? When the horrors took place the rest of the world were either ignorant of what occurred or were either indifferent (like the United Nations) to the mass suffering which resulted in the murder of over 800,000 mainly Tutsis, with the Hutus being the perpetrators.

This apathy of the general populace to human carnage can be equally applied to the situation in a number of hotspots today, namely Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and DR Congo. Are we going to see films and plays about these war zones in the years to come, pinpointing thousands upon thousands of people being slain to dramatic effect, while little attempt was made by the so-called superpowers to even help resolve the conflicts in question?

One major fault in the play was the failure to explain or indicate why the two tribes despised each other, and why this ethnic hatred resulted in the barbarities that took place, including thousands of babies having their heads chopped off with machetes, the mass rape of women and children, and the large-scale displacement of people from their homes.

Written by J.T. Rogers, with stage direction by Max Stafford Clark, this National Theatre production in association with Out Of Joint is set in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It is principally set around the life of American academic Jack Exley (Matthew Marsh), who has moved to Kigali with his family, and his search for his friend, local doctor Joseph Gasana (Jude Akuwudike), who has apparently been killed.

Exley and his wife Linda White-Keeler (Tanya Moodie) and son Geoffrey (Andrew Garfield), are soon embroiled in a region beset by lies, corruption, the proliferation of AIDS and murderous intent, threatening their lives and those of everyone based in Kigali.

The palpable tension inherent in the drama finally explodes at the end, which has harrowing consequences, in what one character calls 'a beautiful land’. Beauty and the beast indeed!

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