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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Almeida Theatre


  Ph: Tristram Kenton

Laden with several awards, including the coveted Pulitzer prize for drama, Lynn Nottage's harrowing war drama Ruined fails to deliver the knockout punch I was expecting after it's successful, highly touted New York run. But it's a winner on points.
Set in an East African brothel on the jungle outskirts of a Congolese mining town, it focuses on the pitiable plight of women in the Kivu provinces in general and, in particular, four of them who service the brothel's clients.
Chief among them is Mama Nadi (Jenny Jules), the wily owner of the premises. A survivor very much in the mould of Brecht's Mother Courage, she prides herself on running a clean house, insisting that her customers empty their guns of ammunition before settling down for a night of pleasure. 
Two of the women are newcomers to the establishment. Both victims of the Democratic Republic of Congo's marauding soldiers, they've been "rescued" by a local salesman called Christian (Lucian Msamati), an uncle to one of the girls who begs Mama Nadi to take them in.
Both have been "ruined" (meaning genitally disfigured through acts of wanton brutality). Sophie (Pippa Bennett-Warner), however, still has her looks and can sing, while Salima (Michelle Asante) is pregnant and on the run from her husband.
It speaks volumes for the horrendous plight of Congolese women that being made prostitutes in the safe haven of a brothel can be construed as an act of charity. The fourth girl, and most high-profile of the whores is Josephine (Kehinde Fadipe).
Though Ms Nottage has wrtten that rara avis of the American theater, a serious play about a serious subject, she hasn't forgotten to leaven it with humour. Nor can she resist giving it a sentimental ending. But the core of the play, for whose research Nottage interviewed several Congolese women fleeing their country's brutal armed conflict, is definitely no laughing matter. 
I did not see the New York production, so I cannot make comparisons. But despite the play's heartbreaking subject matter, I left the Almeida stirred but not shaken.
Some of the cast members are less convincing than others – notably Jenny Jules' Mama Nadi, It's not a bad performance, just too lightweight. It fails to reconcile the woman's cold instinct for survival with her more compassionate moments. The role also needs a more imposing physical presence than she's able to bring to it.
And as several of the supporting characters are sketchily drawn, this, combined with the relative inexperience of much of the company, undermines certain moments in director Indhu Rubasingham's so-so staging of the play.
The one standout newcomer is Kehinde Fadipe as Josephine. Not unlike the great Josephine Baker in both physical appearance and in the way she moves and dances, Ms Fadipe, who only last year graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, already has a quality you'll find hard to resist.

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