fri 15/11/2019

Ruined, Almeida Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Ruined, Almeida Theatre

Ruined, Almeida Theatre

Pulitzer prize-winning play captures the dilemmas of women in a war zone

Jenny Jules is duty bound to dominate with slippery grace as Mama Nadi, a Mother Courage of the DRC who tries to keep out of the conflict, to encourage all visitors to lay down their weapons and leave their mess outside, and to convince herself she does the best she can for the "girls" she houses. The play's title is purposefully freighted beyond our conception of, say, Thomas Hardy's Victorian "ruined maiden", its embodiment one of the two village girls brought to Mama's shack by poet-entrepreneur Christian. In a sympathetic portrayal by Lucian Msamati of a rather more complicated good man than the one he played in The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, he's the uncle of Sophie (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a girl so "ruined" by what's been inflicted on her that she can't serve the clients other than to sing and pour the drinks. You can see the crisis looming, but not the way in which the two other unwanted refugees from the harsh judgments of village life, Salima (Michelle Asante) and Josephine (Kehinde Fadipe), become implicated.

Designer Robert Jones painstakingly evokes on the Almeida's revolving stage a bar where the food may be short but the fabrics and the bright lights create an illusion of some escape from the chameleonic civil war raging beyond the door. It helps to set the scene as consummately as Jules and Msamati, but for the next hour the deeper notes remain unsounded in Indhu Rubasingham's production. Presumably Sophie pours the horror of her rape and injuries into her songs, though you wouldn't know it from Bennett-Warner's delivery, for all her simple charm - not that she has much to work on with Dominic Kanza's rather anonymous numbers. While Josephine expresses her rage in dance-hysteria, Salima is the one who gets to speak of her ordeal in a long monologue, the one point where Nottage attempts to gild the lily with poetic imagery (elswhere it can fall into platitudes, not least the expected one about the war waged over women's bodies). Unfortunately, Asante doesn't manage to touch the truthfulness of a Congolese woman's testimony. Nottage records her "strong visceral response" to the "gentle cadences and the monumental space" between her interviewees' "gasps and sighs"; we don't feel any of that here.

The men need to convey irrational anger, hatred and fear erupting without warning. That only really emerges at the end of the first half with the arrival of Salima's agitated husband. The crises then come in waves, with strong performances from Okezie Morro and Steve Toussaint, and Rubasingham duly sets the pulses racing. The real payoff, though, is the quiet aftermath, shockingly simple and then simply moving. Nottage serves up a satisfying symmetry, with Jules and Msamati unflinching in the human way they take the story of Mama and Christian further than we thought possible. Ultimately, Ruined offers a phoenix from the ashes at the last minute, and Almeida partner Amnesty International gets the dramatic incarnation its message deserves.

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.