Reviewed by Matthew Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’ll be honest when I heard that Heart of Darkness was being brought to the stage my interest was massively piqued for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is this particular novella is the inspiration behind two of my favourite films: Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola and Heart of Darkness, a documentary which looked at the chaotic production of the Coppola masterpiece. However the Joseph Conrad penned story is today viewed somewhat differently from when it was first published in 1899. The story of captain Marlow being sent to the Congo Free State to retrieve an Ivory trader, Kurtz is considered by many academics to be offensively racist because of its apparent defence of colonialism, it’s portrayal of African natives as being primitive and savage by nature. Clearly this is an ambitious project and as far from “safe” theatre as you can get.
Fortunately Leeds based Theatre Company: Imitating the Dog are up to the task. The company have subverted Conrad’s text and created a unique production. There are two stories at play here on the surface there is the Conrad intended only the action has shifted from the Congo to Europe following a World War Two, which has a different outcome. As well as the change in location, there are also numerous character changes and other tweaks. In addition to this narrative, are numerous breaks where we drop into production meetings where the production team attempt to not just delve into the soul of Conrad as well as examine what impact the work has today.
Initially the jumps between plots and use of a small cast seem a little confusing but once you adapt you can fully immerse yourself in this ambitious project. Using cameras and projectors and green screen imagery the company has created a visual feast that is part classic Hollywood, part graphic novel. This marries perfectly with the reading of script directions and as well references oral and visual references to Casablanca, Blade Runner, and aforementioned Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness.
This production does offer it’s take on just how fractured a nation we are over Brexit and for this it should be commended however one sequence which showed footage of drunken girls on a night out lumped in with the likes of Boris Johnson and remain protestors was for me no better than a sneering article in the Daily Mail.
This bold, innovative and powerful performance will be up for interpretation amongst its audience and create a great deal of debate which is what original theatre should do.
Heart of Darkness is on at the Lowry until Thursday 18th April tickets available here.