Theatre review: Ruined

Posted on: 04 May 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the Pulitzer prize-winning play Ruined at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

The brutal face of a war in which women are forced to endure rape as part of everyday life is vividly conveyed by Lynn Nottage in her Pulitzer prize-winning play Ruined (Almeida Theatre, Islington), directed by Indhu Rabasingham.

The story is set in the devastated Democratic Republic of Congo, where the most deadly conflict since World War II has claimed as estimated five million lives and fighting still rages in the eastern Kivu region. There in a small mining town the imposing figure of Mama Nadi runs a bar-brothel, offering a place of sanctuary for raped and mutilated women victims of the fighting, while exploiting them for personal gain. She operates by strict rules - no arguments, no politics and no guns.

When two new girls arrive tainted with the stigma of their recent past, Mama is forced to reassess her business priorities and personal loyalties. As tales of local atrocities spread and tensions between rebels and government militia forces rise, the realities of life in a civil war provide the ultimate test of the human spirit.

This is a brave and passionate play that examines the spectrum of human life in all its complexities - the sacred - with the profane, the transcendent with the lethal and selfishness with generosity. It also manages to be both droll and disturbing and engaging where it could easily have been confrontational, while the grim nature of the subject matter is leavened by some sweet humour.

The rough and unfamiliar setting, conjuring up a whole world of its own - with the silhouettes of trees in the background and the sound of tropical birds ever present - is brilliantly evoked by designer Robert Jones on the small, revolving Almeida stage and contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the piece.

But it is the superb central performance by Jenny Jules as the slinky Mama NadI, a woman who could be charming one minute and monstrous the next that really ignites the production. Strong support is provided by Pippa Bennett-Warner as Sophie, a girl “ruined” by the men violated her with their bayonets, Michelle Asante as the more fragile Salima, and Lucian Msamati as a local Mr Fix-It.

This then is a truly impressive play which richly deserves a West End transfer.

By Laurence Green

Where: Almeida Theatre, Islington

When: plays until 5 June

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