Review: Bang Bang Bang, Royal Court

“There’s always going to be an Amala, or the little boy or the fourteen-year-old or the thirty-five-year-old or the elderly lady or the dying man…”

Though Stella Feehily’s Bang Bang Bang is set in the same part of the world as Lynn Nottage’s Ruined – the Democratic Republic of Congo – the focus of this play is less on the state of affairs in the civil war-torn country but rather delving behind the scenes of the charities, journalists and NGOs out there in Africa, looking at how it affects the lives of the humanitarian workers who go out there. Feehily did huge amounts of meticulous research for this play, interviewing a wide range of stakeholders from the international aid business.

As often happens in such cases, there is the slight sense that Feehily has tried to cram in as much of what she has uncovered into the play as issue follows issue and the shocking scene that opens the show is explained through flashbacks and its aftermath subsequently probed. Experienced Sadhbh and newbie Mathilde set out on a harrowing mission to investigate tales of war crimes and end up in differing situations: Sadhbh, already testing the boundaries of her relationship by returning here as her boyfriend back in London shell-shocked from his own experiences as an aid worker wants her to give it up, accepts an invitation to tea with the warlord himself and finds an opposing account of events, and Mathilde finds herself a distraction in the form of photographer Vin, but both women are never far from danger and their choices have massive implications in their perilous circumstances.

Performance-wise, there is little to fault: Orla Fitzgerald makes a convincing impact as the anguished Sadhbh as does Dan Fredenburgh as her bitterly resentful partner; Julie Dray’s Mathilde is highly appealing especially when finding relief with Jack Farthing’s Vin; and Frances Ashman and Babou Ceesay do incredible work at playing multiple characters, though there’s a niggling feeling that some of the Congolese characters should have been more developed. The play does suffer somewhat from being so focused on the personal travails of the aid workers no matter how serious they get, I couldn’t help but feel the sheer scale of what is happening in the Congo demands, or at least deserves, greater service than forming the backdrop to another story.

But it does provide an interesting insight into what it is that drives people to take such jobs and showing how that dedication impacts on ‘everyday life’ and later on it examines the role of the media in reporting such crises with responsibility yet keeping society invested, engaged and fully aware of their duties. So something of a mixed bag for me, good but could have been much more.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3
Booking until 5th November

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