Review: Heart of Darkness, Birmingham REP

A hugely thought-provoking, contemporary retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness from innovative theatre company imitating the dog

The story is impossible to tell, but it must be told”

Are some stories just too problematically complex to tell in today’s society? Or is there value in trying to pick them apart, to get to the heart of them in an attempt to understand? imitating the dog clearly cleave to the latter point of view as they forensically dissect Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (“it’s of its time, and that time is racist”) in this hugely thought-provoking production which creates a film noir-inspired adaptation in front of us.

Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ reworking is breath-taking in the formal invention of its scope, exploring the intersection of theatre and technology as well as thoroughly interrogating the text. So discussions about the inherent problems of the story smash up against striking effect-laden work on a green screen, spoken stage directions nestle next to a lip-synced Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a sensory overload.

Which proves to be both a strength and something of a weakness for the show. It is just so clever and considered and ingeniously constructed that you can’t but be lost in wonder at the inventiveness of it all. But there’s also a point where its metatextual tricksiness feels a touch calculated, the act of storytelling too dominant over what is being presented, to allow its audience a moment for their own consideration, their own emotional response.

The flipping of the main narrative of Heart of Darkness, a black woman traversing the dangerous streets of a alternative-reality, war-torn Europe, is powerfully done (great work from Keicha Greenidge). And as our own relationship with Europe is being recalibrated, the lessons about colonial legacies and our perception of our place in the world couldn’t feel more pertinent. A slippery thing then, but one worth investigating.   

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Lara Virgulti
Heart of Darkness is booking at Birmingham REP until 24th November, it will tour the UK in 2019

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