The Ballerina, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

Colin Clutterbuck, a British diplomat stationed in an unnamed African nation, is arrested and accused of supporting the president’s opposition with the aim of starting civil war. Clutterbuck claims her community outreach work fosters democracy and civic responsibility amongst the country’s citizens, newly freed from a dictatorship. Her captor, Pacifique Muamba, uses western imperialist techniques of torture to get her to admit what he thinks is the truth.

As much as dialogue drives this story forward, so does violence. As the in-turn charming and ruthless Pacifique, Edward Nkom uses repetition to try to wear down and catch out the determined and fiercely intelligent Colin, played by Dominique Izabella Little. When this doesn’t work, his collection of goons in cartoonish masks – Pauline Raybaud, Alamo Perez and Vincent Osborne – restrain and violate Little in extremely graphic ways. The traverse staging ensures this is in the audiences’ faces, and whilst it’s clear that stage combat is used to keep everyone safe most of the time, some techniques, used by fight director Josh Cavendish, look particularly real and are all the more shocking to watch. This is not a show for people triggered by extreme violence, though it’s use here is a fitting vehicle for the show’s message. The additional incorporation of Catholicism, whose presence in Africa is also the result of imperialism, also highlights the egregious hypocrisy of the west and its insidious infiltration into global majority cultures.

Bold, angular lighting and movement sequences do some work to disengage the production from reality and provide relief, though they are largely superficial and infrequently used. However, this is not a problem, as they ultimately don’t diminish the horrors that unfold. Ultimately the show is unabashedly critical of the European and American legacy of colonisation on the African continent – something very much needed now on British stages as the country starts to reckon with its atrocious past.

The Ballerina runs through 5 February.

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