No curtain. There is nothing to hide. As the audience takes its place, several musicians can be seen on stage holding African drums and painted faces, a soldier against the side wall and a few other still unidentified characters. They are all completely stationary for the long 20 minutes that it took to fill up the pocket-sized theatre in the bustling immigrant streets behind the Montmartre. The doors close behind you, blocking out the sounds of the street and you are left alone with the drums.
Ms Ehe uses her young theatre group to react to the unfolding power abuse in her native Togo, putting an emphasis on the late General Eyadéma. In the play, she places him up high on a pedestal as a statue still to topple. At times he plays the role of the soapbox politician, rallying with anything he can get, quoting freely from the battle slogans of Sarkozy and Obama. But he would presumably say anything he had to, just as we see he is willing to do anything he has to to cling on to his absolute power, even jailing his dissident brother. If the power actually procures him any pleasure, then he is the only one. When fate strikes him dead the people celebrate with joy, but ironically their prime moral defender, his brother, still rots in jail.
Although the title promises some optimism (‘the last victim’), the play is merciless, even too much so. The mix of physical and verbal violence, with the African rhythmic drums and visual imagery drives home the message of power abuse originally, but the audience could have been spared some. The music, both the drums and the singing narrator, is impressive, but the constant pain of the tragedy lies heavy.
Insisting to keep the pressure on, Ms Ehe could have balanced the production out intellectually. Power abuse, which is so central to the play, in shown here in an open manner, as if it is possible uphold a grip on a country without rewards being handed out to the abusers. This is false. Similarly, when the people rebel here, they are portrayed as completely ignorant to their needs – they want freedom, but can not elabourate it any further. But they should not have been blamed. Any philosophical discussion about what freedom or democracy is, should have been shown between the Mandela-type brother and the dictator. Mocking the rebellious people for their ignorance is uncalled for – they know they do not want to be abused and that should be enough. The brother should have been given the right words to explain the rule of law, or such. That was the right place for such an exchange.
Should the production be taken any further, the group will have to loose at least half its cast, perhaps converting the musicians into video projections, integrating the narrators’ roles and such to make the group leaner and fit to travel. I hope that will happen. I also hope the essential element, the originality of the presentation will remain well in tact. So when those doors fly open once again, and you are back on the busy boulevard, you will have the drums and images to take with you.