Picture by: Helen Murray
What is the purpose of theatre? A question raised when watching the striking Ugandan Politics through the eyes of a white man in Sheffield’s Crucible theatre.
The Last King of Scotland, adapted by the English writer Steve Waters, is a piece of political theatre which centres around the protagonist, Nicholas Garrigan - portrayed by Daniel Portman - as he finds himself stuck within Uganda during the regime of Idi Amin Dada - portrayed by the brilliant Tobi Bamtefa - and even finds himself working alongside Idi Amin.
The show itself covers the rise and fall of Idi Amin, over eight years(1971-1979) and how he tries to reform Uganda, but unfortunately falls into a brutal regime. But instead of showing us this brutality, the show instead pushes this message through multiple news reporters throughout the show via a set of large screens pointed out towards the audience, three to be exact due to the thrust staging of the Crucible theatre, and this aspect is actually used throughout the show.
It’s only in Act Two where we see the reality of the violence caused by Idi Amin, as he reveals to the Scottish doctor the capture and torture of multiple other characters who’ve gone against what Amin wanted. It’s at this pivotal moment that Nicholas realises he’s in too deep and has to get out.
It’s crucial to understand that Act One is actually taking the time to not only set up this reveal, but is also showing us the consequences of British history. It creates an aesthetic of political power, but also the consequences of British colonialism as well as British interference within Africa. Without our interference and forcing ‘democracy’ upon the colonies, this rise of dictatorial rule of Idi Amin may have never occurred. But because of this history, we are shown the damage it’s caused through the eyes of this white Scottish doctor, a man who stands out in a cast of majority of black actors, which helps to cement the fact that he doesn't fit in and doesn't really belong in Uganda, and the show manages to push this message extremely well without it being explicit or overwhelming.
So, The Last King of Scotland pushes the mainstream view of theatre, because instead of it being a light-hearted piece of entertainment, it pushes a message of viewing the consequences of our history, especially the parts that we tend to wash over when in the education system.
The Last King of Scotland is by no means the first or the last show to symbolise and push these kinds of messages but it still doesn't fit the mainstream purpose of theatre, which some might say is solely to entertain the audience.