Rape as strategy


photograph: Hugo Glendinning

Ought we to be entertained by the truly horrible? The 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, is the first play I've ever seen that turns on gynecological matters, for in civil-strife-torn Congo, a woman who has been "ruined" has not just been raped, but mutilated. British reviewers have, perhaps understandably, been shy about spelling this out in full, wince-making detail; though, in fact, it brings home what Amnesty International means when it speaks of rape being used as a military strategy in this nastiest of all conflicts.  February 2010 UN figures for the Kivu Provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo alone say that "about 1600 women are raped every week, mainly by armed men," with 8000-plus cases reported in 2009.

         The numbers are staggering. This is not simply a feminist issue - if the facts were more widely known it would not only help the victims of rape (and tribal, Hutu v. Tutsi, violence, and the rush for the DRC's minerals), but also help us gain some perspective on the world's other conflict hotspot. The Middle East has nothing of comparable depravity.

         The extraordinary thing is that Ms Nottage has been able to make a play of this (now at the Almeida until 5 June, www.almeida.co.uk), and an enjoyable one, too. This owes something to Robert Jones's clever revolving set, which gives us both the outside and interior of Mama Nadi's bar-brothel near a mining village in a part of the DRC. But also Nottage has created full, rounded characters, played with total conviction by a cast brimming with talent. At least three of the superb actors in this all-but-one-black company have just graduated from drama school.  The playwright and director Indhu Rubasingham have managed to stage a play that leaves you feeling that hope is not dead and pleasure is still possible, no mean feat when more than one of the characters indicates the meaning of the title. Joyfully dealing with the genuinely horrible, Jenny Jules as Mama Nadi shows star quality - and so do several others: Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, the educated "ruined" girl, Michelle Asante as the married woman Salima and Kehinde Fadipe as the apparent good-time girl, Josephine. The boys are terrific, too, though some look almost too fetching in their camouflage uniforms and combat boots.

         Some of my theatre critic colleagues have complained that the upbeat ending rings false, and others have even felt that it betrays the misery and wickedness depicted in the rest of the drama. I'm not sure. I felt at the time that the wit and flashes of good humour of Nottage's dialogue showed that Mama Nadi has a soft centre missing in her obvious predecessor, Mother Courage, that makes her a bit more like the hard-bitten professional women in 1930s Hollywood Screwball comedies. It's true that the final scene is not as strong as what went before; but it's an exhilarating evening for all that.






May 5, 2010 3:46 PM | | Comments (0)

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on May 5, 2010 3:46 PM.

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