A Season in the Congo

Posted by Laurence Green

A rich, complex examination of the struggle of post-colonial Africa and the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba.

Season in the CongoCourage, betrayal, self-sacrifice and the abuse of power e combustible elements that drive the drama of Aimé Césaire 1966 play A Season in the Congo, which is only now receiving its UK premiere in a gripping new production, directed by Joe Wright at the Young Vic Theatre.

The play charts the rise and fall of legendary leader Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of the Congo and an African nationalist leader who was assassinated in 1961 allegedly by the CIA.

We first meet Lumumba, a post office clerk turned beer salesman, in 1954 when he was preaching Congolese independence against its Belgian rulers, and the drama then moves to 1961, taking Lumumba to prison and to election as PM. But the noose of time quickly tightens around Lumumba's neck and the country slips inexorably into civil war fomented by a murky mixture of foreign powers and internecine conflict.

Césaire 's poetic and detailed text is an excoriating critique of the 'civilising mission' of the Belgian colonisers, but also of the Machiavellian duplicity of the ruthless cloak and dagger diplomacy of the West - cartonian Europeans are played by black actors with posh voices and white noses. The Martinique -born playwright also provides a howl of grief and rage at the global financiers, depicted here as hideous giant puppets, who encourage the rebel Tshombe to secede the mineral rich Katanga province with military help as the UN stood by impassively.

But this production is no mere political diatribe, it is a rich as complex examination of the struggle of post-colonial Africa, to which even today there are no easy solutions.

The sights and sounds of the Congo are conveyed vividly on an arena-style public space with a corrugated-iron-and-concrete bar in Leopoldville pulsating with the rhythm and colour of an African night.

However, the impact this production makes is largely due to a terrific central performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor who brings great dignity and charisma to the role of the doomed Lumumba, moving effortlessly between affectionate humanitarian and high passion. There is strong support from Daniel Kaluuya as the increasingly hard-line General Mobutu and Joseph Mydell as a vacillating president Kasavubu.

This play has certainly been well worth the wait!


A Season in the Congo runs at the Young Vic Theatre until 24 August

Box office: 020 7922 2922  


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