Writer: Geirge Obama & Damian Lewis
Adaptor: Kevin Fegan
Music: Dom Coyote and Michael Searl
Director: Kully Thiarai
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
It is not uncommon for politicians to have embarrassing relatives –like George W. Bush, Teddy Kennedy or Mark Thatcher. Barrack Hussein Obama, President of the United States, also has a skeleton in his closet. His half brother, George Hussein Obama, a former ‘gangsta’ in Huruma – South Africa’s most lawless slum – has developed into a community leader; a self –styled Third World President of the slum.
Kevin Fegan adapts George Obama’s autobiography for the stage. As with all adaptations there is more detail than will comfortably fit the new format so some questions remain unanswered. Fegan avoids congestion with a non-linear text presenting the main points in a striking way that brings out their emotional impact. The focal point is not what you might expect. Although the relationship between the half-siblings is acknowledged it is not explored in depth. Fegan suggests that the motivation for change that pushed George from gangsta to community leader is not the example set by his birth family but rather due to his environment and his wider social relationships. A frightening period of imprisonment and the realisation that members of the Huruma community have to help themselves (because no-one else will) prompt George to change his ways.
Director Kully Thiarai sets a realistically dark but rather grim atmosphere for such an uplifting play. Shanaz Gulzar’s mosaic designs projected onto the rear stage wall become slate grey almost abstract with a shocking blast of blood as the authorities flaunt their oppressive power. Clouds of dry ice suggest that George might be reviewing his life in a reflective limbo but the technique quickly becomes annoying. Michael Searl ‘s upright bass played live throughout the play is a classy touch but the jazz sound seems alien to an African community.
Over the 100 minutes of the play solo performer Clifford Samuel brings to life members of the slum community, Barrack Hussein and, of course, his half brother George. The latter is a particular triumph taking George from awkward childhood to surly teen and opportunistic thief before showing the glimmer of self-awareness that will be his redemption. Like the writer Samuel seems more at ease exploring George in the context of his community rather than the relationship with his half-brother. A drunken speech in which he compares their lifestyles and achievements feels contrived – as if it was included because it was expected. On the other hand the closing sequence, in which Samuel recounts a day in the life of his community, is relaxed and genuinely warm demonstrating that the most unlikely people can achieve positive change.
‘Obama The Mamba’ portrays someone whose achievements are perhaps even more remarkable than those of his more famous sibling.
Runs until 27th October 2012Obama The Mamba - The Lowry, Salford,
Tags: Art Builiding Projects, biography, Clifford Samuel, Damian Lewis, Dom Coyote, Drama, George Obama, Homeland, Kevin Fegan, Kully Thiarai, Michael Searl, Salford, Shanaz Gulzar, The Curve, The Lowry