Mungo Park – Travels in the Interior of Africa
The entertaining adventures of an enlightened 18th century explorer in West Africa
The eponymous Mungo Park, a Scottish doctor and enlightened explorer, is the first Westerner known to have travelled up the central portions of the river Niger to Timbuktu. His detailed narrative, Travels in the Interior of Africa, provide the basis of this inventive production from Copenhagen's aptly named Mungo Park Theatre and Dogstar Theatre.
From the outset, it is emphatically declared that this is a tale worthy of Hollywood, and as such scenes are frequently described in cinematic terms; sweeping (imaginary) shots of endless fields of (imaginary) rippling wheat and so on. The 'camera' zooms in on the anguished face of Dr Park as he begins to recall his extraordinary voyage. This clever approach, however, is not entirely successful: there's a clash between the fictional world presented on the stage and the meta-fictional world of the imagined film. For example, a ladder turned on its side becomes the bow of a riverboat within the imaginary film, but this in turn highlights the theatrical trickery, creating a bit of a reality tangle.
Matthew Zajac's strong portrayal of the principled and bold explorer drives the production forward, and he is ably supported by Kingsley Amadi and Anders Budde Christensen, who between them portray a dazzling array of characters (though the latter's accent could do with some anchoring). The production makes bold choices in its racial politics, where a black actor portrays a white sergeant hell-bent on massacring 'brownies' and a white actor plays various inquisitive black West Africans, but it is a bit disappointing that the female characters are reduced to pouting and eyelash-batting in between bouts of sobbing. Overall, however, this is an entertaining yarn that covers a lot of ground while making some bold and inventive staging choices.
Reviewed at Summerhall, Edinburgh; now touring.