The Lowry, Salford – until 18th April 2019
Reviewed by Joseph Everton
Imitating the Dog’s Heart of Darkness takes Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella and tells it all over again with some substantial changes made to characters and location. Imitating the Dog, known for their innovative approach to theatre, combine technology and live performance, creating a graphic-novel-style story which is filmed on a green screen before the audience using two onstage cameras and projected onto hanging screens above. With compelling visuals and a plot adapted for a 2019 audience, Heart of Darkness is slick, stylish and intelligently crafted.
The original story, influential yet controversial, followed detective Charles Marlow along the river Congo, into the heart of the Congo Free State, created and controlled by European colonisers, where forced labour was used to exploit locals and natural resources. Cutting off hands, the burning of villages and severing heads was commonplace in the Congo Free State, mutilation used as a method of control by Europeans. However, this version lifts the horrors inflicted by Europeans on Africa, dumps into Europe and tells the tale as though Europeans have inflicted such horror on themselves instead.
Joseph Conrad’s tale is critiqued in this stage version by the cast who break from the narrative to debate themes that arise from the novel. As they discuss the racist depiction of Africa by the author, it is decided, on stage, that a change of roles should take place. The river is replaced by a road through a ravaged Europe which has never recovered from war and where cities and towns have been replaced by forced labour camps, a raw and brutal form of capitalism. Charles Marlowe (Keicha Greenidge) is replaced by a woman from Kinshasha, who is paid to journey through these camps to find Kurtz, the man renowned for running his camp most efficiently, in order to learn his methods before his death. With Marlow tasked to return to Kinshasha with the blue prints for expansion of this horrific system, she must make an important and potentially fatal decision.
Spliced with lip synced scenes from Apocalypse Now and a scathing condemnation of the Joseph Conrad original by author Chinua Achebe, Heart of Darkness manages to recreate a classic in a modern and thought-provoking way. It is unashamedly political, with modern day nationalist leaders and groups projected onto the screens and a cast playing out a fierce debate on how British history is taught and how the continent of Africa is depicted. Heart of Darkness is intelligent, fearless and will have you shifting uncomfortably in your seat.