Play review by Julia Pattison: Heart of Darkness at York Theatre Royal

Keicha Greenidge who plays Charlie Marlow.
Keicha Greenidge who plays Charlie Marlow.

Play: Heart of Darkness

Venue: York Theatre Royal

Review by: Julia Pattison

Be still my beating heart, this was theatre like I’ve never seen before! Quirkily named Leeds Theatre Company Imitating The Dog made their York debut on 9-10 April, and will finish their tour on May 11 at Belgrade Theatre Coventry.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s challenging novella was retold using live performance and digital technology that left the senses reeling.

Co-artistic Director Simon Wainwright explains in the programme: “The actors create a live film on stage using cameras and green-screen backdrops which, when combined with backgrounds, overlays and images, creates a framed, graphic-novel style film.”

The tale of lies, brutal greed and the dark heart that beats within us all had been re-sited from Africa to a timeless Europe, and our hero, Charlie Marlow, a black, female private detective (played most convincingly by Keicha Greenidge) in this interpretation doesn’t finally find Kurtz in Africa, but in a post-apocalyptic Britain.

There were a great many young people in the audience, presumably studying Joseph Conrad’s literary work; they would have done well to listen carefully as the actors broke character often to become teacher and students discussing the harrowing narrative, particularly on atrocities committed.

Film buffs watching would have particularly appreciated footage of Frank Ford Coppola discussing Conrad’s novella, which he transposed to Vietnam in Apocalypse Now, and there were several clips of the film included on the big screens above the actors’ heads.

I found myself drawn into the story in the second half and was willing Berensdorf (brilliantly portrayed by Matt Prendergast) to succeed in his mission.

Did he succeed? Ah, well, no spoilers here!

The play certainly wasn’t comfortable viewing, and there was animated debate afterwards in the foyer about the horrors of reducing people to “cargo” and the consequences of that.

A most ambitious, bold production that would appeal to a niche audience.