Heart of Darkness review – challenging reconstruction of Conrad

Theatre Royal, York
Imitating the Dog interrogate their own staging of the controversial novella as well as its themes

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella tells of the steamboat journey undertaken by its captain, Marlow, to fetch the trader Kurtz from the interior of Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo – sad ironies in both names). “The story is impossible to tell but it must be told” – so runs the publicity catchline. The genius of Imitating the Dog’s absorbing new version is to incorporate the company’s struggle with impossibilities into a performance that makes the medium of its realisation part of its message.

A graphic-novel style film is projected on to screens above and behind the stage. Actors in character are filmed by other actors not in character; they appear on the screens incorporated into pre-recorded videos (tautly evocative images by Simon Wainwright). A female private detective, Marlow (the excellent Keicha Greenidge), travels from Kinshasa to fetch Kurtz from an alternative-reality, devastated Europe, run on a Nazi-style, labour-camp system. Spliced in to this “film” are snippets of Apocalypse Now, the 1979 film version of the novella.

This “film” is interpolated by recreated scenes of the rehearsal period, with the five actors confronting one another over questions of sexism, racism, capitalism and colonialism arising from Conrad’s story. Projections of related images and texts accompany their discussions, including Chinua Achebe’s incisive condemnation of the novella.

The overall effect is of a collage of viewpoints shifting like sandbanks in a fast-flowing river. We, the audience, must navigate our own way through conflicts charted by this committed, powerful ensemble and writer-directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks. Not to be missed.

Heart of Darkness is touring until 11 May

Watch a trailer for Heart of Darkness.


Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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