Lorraine Hansberry’s play is vividly and powerfully brought to life in Yaël Farber’s atmospheric production.
This latest production to be showcased in the National Theatre’s immensely popular National Theatre at Home series is this immensely powerful and shocking play from Lorraine Hansberry that captures a range of topics with piercing insight.
It was originally staged at the National Theatre in 2016, but sadly the themes and issues such as imperialism, racism, and colonialism are still very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds given the recent murders of George Floyd and so many others in recent weeks as well as questions about having statues celebrating the work of those who were slave traders so prominently everywhere.
Set in an African country at an unspecified time, it is a place that is on the brink of civil war. American journalist Charlie Morris is there to report the success of the mission, while Tshembe Matoseh is returning home for his father’s funeral – both find themselves caught up in the drive to get rid of its colonial present and to gain independence and freedom.
As things rapidly unravel around the world in the present day – this play couldn’t be more pertinent. Throughout it all, Lorraine Hansberry carefully constructs a range of arguments, highlighting the perspectives from both Black and White characters – thus creating an atmosphere filled with pain and anger. It is a really raw piece of drama filled with shocking images and language that is brilliantly brought to life through Yaël Farber’s vivid production.
There are so many instances and speeches that make a powerful impact on the audience. In particular, when Morris attempts to make Tshembe talk about how he feels, it unleashes a a torrent of anger and frustration at the naivety of the journalist thinking colonialism and racism are easily eradicated – this part of the play reveals just how divided both sides are and why there is so much conflict.
It is not a play that offers any easy answers, rather it reveals just how complex the issues are – such as when Tshembe discusses how he wishes he could hate all white people as it would make it easier – but he can’t as he has got to know many through his travels and his wife is European. The anger and tension pulsates throughout this production beautifully, particularly in the last thirty minutes or so which are particularly horrifying but brilliantly staged.
The whole story is captured with great respect and sensitivity. Soutra Gilmour’s set design captures the whole fragility of the piece, while Tim Lutkin’s lighting and Adam Cork’s sound design enhances the increasingly intense atmosphere perfectly.
Meanwhile, all of the performances are raw and fascinating to watch. In particular, Danny Sapani as Tshembe wonderfully convey’s the character’s sense of conflict and anger at this situation – it is a raw and gripping performance that I would have loved to have experienced live. Elsewhere, Clive Francis as Major George Rice perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with the system – made even more real by the casual way in which his character expresses his views. It is a subtle performance that shows racism at its worst. There is also powerful support from Gary Beadle as Abioseh and Elliot Cowan as Charlie Morris – both characters who feel helpless in this situation.
Overall, Les Blancs is an important piece of theatre that has so much relevancy to everything that is happening in the world now. If you haven’t seen it yet – then add it to your must-watch list.
By Emma Clarendon
Les Blancs is available to watch until the 9th July through the National Theatre’s Youtube Channel.