A Season in the Congo at the Young Vic
I think that it was only about ten years ago that I quite caught up with what happened to Patrice Lumumba, who was the first Prime Minister of independent Congo, after the Belgians had been more or less kicked out in 1960.
I say "more or less" because within weeks, the Belgians had supported the armed independence movement on Katanga provice of Congo (the place, of course, where most of the country's mineral wealth was) -- and within months, with the collusion of the Belgians, the President of Congo and the army leader Mobutu, the idealistic and anti-colonialist Lumumba had been deposed and sent to Katanga, where he was mudered. The UN stood by without doing very much. (That's a picture of him in prison, above.)
In 1965 Mobutu became dictator, renamed the country Zaire, ruled for more than 30 years and (indirectly) gave the world the word "kleptocracy" (that is, government by theft).
As I recall, this story was all revealed to me in the Musée Royale de l"afrique Centrale, in Brussels -- now, very anxious to discuss frankly Belgium's engagement in Congo under Leopold, but also the post-colonial history (in which Belgium's conduct was not always much better).
So when the daughter (and who's a much greater expert in Africa than I shall ever be) and I saw that The Young Vic was putting on Aimé Césaire's dramatic version of the Lumumba story, A Season in the Congo, we were very keen to go. And damn good it was too (if you can get a ticket for the last few days of its run -- do).
I'm not sure quite how nuanced or profound the Césaire text is (but maybe the history of Congo doesn't call for nuance!). But the production and staging was just brilliant.
For a start (and I know it's a trivial thing to be impressed by, but I
was) Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Lumumba had been made into an extraordinary look-alike for Lumumba himself (as you can see -- that's the production in colour below).
But the most nicely edgy thing about the show was that all the cast were black. Where we are used to whites playing blacks in the west at least, here the Belgians and others were all black actors (with added white piggy noses), and the Belgians at least spoke with toff British accents. There was a marvellous scene in which King Badouin, dressed up in a silly western king's outfit, "gave" Congo its independence, by congratulating his own country on the manifold blessings they had conferred on the land. Where other Congolese purported to be grateful, Lumumba (as indeed history recounts) laid into the colonial atrocities of the occupying power.
Meanwhile the ineffectual UN Secretary General and part-time poet, Dag Hammarskjöld, was black but clad in a bright blonde wig (to indicate he was a Swede).
The final scene of Lumumba's murder was one of the most extraordinary images of the Last Supper I've seen.. with almost everyone literally washing their hands of it.
A really memorable production.