Written for Exeunt Magazine
It’s a daunting task just trying to take in all of the information contained within Daedalus Theatre’s A Place At The Table. The dense facts and figures of the U.N. Security Council Report S/1996/682 which forms the basis of this devised piece are broken down into actions, phone calls and songs. As we sit around a giant communal table, a group of four actresses try to measure their own – and our – responses to the little known horrors that began in Burundi and spread like wild fire through Rwanda in the early 1990s.
The basis of the U.N.’s report is explained to us in clipped, clinical tones. We are told of the assassination of Burundi’s first democratically elected Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993. We hear how it led to a civil war between Hutus and Tutsis that resulted in the most ignored genocide in history. Slides flash up with the names and faces of the lead players as the company attempt to understand where the responsibility for both this murder and the 300 million more that followed it lies. This is muddy ground. The generals blame mutinous troops; Germany and Belgium are pegged as shady Machiavellian manipulators, and civilians speak of neighbours slaughtering one another – by the end things don’t feel any clearer.
But what is clear is Daedalus’ commitment to try to place this complex piece of forgotten history centre stage. The piece has evolved through a devising process which has spanned several years. Director Paul Burgess has nurtured personal explorations from his performers, turning instinctive reactions into moments of communication. Some of these are more successful than others. A witty telesales advert highlights the West’s role in this endemic tribal hatred, and the U.N. table is imaginatively unpacked to reveal soil and earth as spirits are released from the polished wood. But the piece as a whole is rather opaque and some of the movement sequences feel woolly and unfocussed. The constant bombardment of names, facts and figures eventually starts to wash over you, leaving you numb.
Even if Daedalus’ message is not always clear, the final act of coming together and sharing – a process which includes all of us – is an arresting one. A Place At The Table sheds its slight well-meaning stuffiness, its air of the bureaucratic, and ends in a much more personal and uplifting fashion. This is a hopeful piece to come out of an epic tragedy and whilst the ins and outs of what happened remain cloudy, the idea that change is possible is very powerfully put across.
Runs until 19 November.