Steve Water’s The Last King of Scotland; a tonally deaf production, yet held up by technical prowess. On the 16th of October I saw the story of the former war-hero, turned tyrannical Dictator, Idi Amin, and the slow breakdown of law and order in Uganda following the usurpation of pro-colonial leadership. Adapted to stage.
Firstly, regarding stage craft. On a purely technical level, LKS is a very competent show. Utilising Brechtian style of epic theatre, LKS is a political piece showing the affects colonial rule has on the third world countries it has supposedly developed, and what happens after they leave. In order to have the audience engage with the messages of the piece, they utilise several key Brechtian techniques/stagecraft.
The set dressing is very minimalist, only pieces of set that are considered crucial are used. Direct address to the audience is done through news anchors, whom narrate the events unfolding and provide different viewpoints from other countries. This narration took an interesting twist on standard formulae of Direct Address. Incorporating technology in the form of video recordings, that displayed video of the ‘news anchors’ onstage on three large screens pointing out to audience.
At one-point Idi walks through the audience, shaking hands with many in the aisle seats. All of this is done to keep the audience active and engaged. By repeatedly stepping through the fourth wall and removing the avenues in which an audience member could possibly immerse themselves into narrative, it keeps them aware of their surroundings of the theatre. They remain more receptive and more inclined to critically think about the play, rather than merely being along for the ride.
Aesthetically, the play firmly roots itself in the time period and locale of Idi Amin’s eight-year rule, 1970’s Uganda. The characters’ ensembles consisted of period appropriate garments; the white, English/foreign characters wore outfits influenced by western 70’s fashion, flares, blouses, shirts and blazers with hairstyles to match. The ‘native’ Ugandan’s on the other hand, wore a mixture of traditional Kikoy and slight western influences in the upper castes. Additionally, the Ugandan accents were well practiced and convincing. All these choices compound to create a convincing recreation of Uganda. Or at least, provide a suitable facsimile for which the narrative can take place.
There are, however, certain points in which this image of competency wanes. The largest offender in this regard, is the portrayal of the character Idi Amin, played by Tobi Bentefa. A mentally unstable individual whose good intentions are lost as he descends into paranoia and delusion once he achieves a position of power. The was an opportunity to have Amin be a tragic character, one who honestly believe his actions were for the betterment of his country. However, the tone of his character did not progress significantly over the course of the play. Initially, he is the jolly and charismatic leader. His speeches of growth and hope reflecting the opinions of the Ugandan citizenry. This is juxtaposed by the horror and depravity of his actions in the second act. Yet he remains the butt of the jokes in the scenes he is in. His motivations are not established nor explained, so his actions have little context, and are present purely to incite a reaction from the audience and their mouthpiece, Nicholas Garrigan, portrayed by Daniel Portman. A villain, or character in general, needs context added to their actions. An explanation to why, or how the circumstances surrounding them has caused them to become how they are. Idi Amin lacks this explanation. This, coupled with the juvenile humour and lack of progression as a character, makes him someone the audience cannot understand nor sympathise with.
The Last King of Scotland; a prime example of how exemplary stagecraft and technical performance, still can't save a poor adaptation.
Photo Credit; Helen Murray