Theatre Review: Les Blancs

Captivating, entertaining and powerful - Les Blancs is a brilliant theatrical piece currently being performed at the National Theatre. Written by the late Lorraine Hansberry in 1930, Les Blancs is a play that transcends through time and reflects the underlying attitudes and behaviours that are still very apparent in today’s society.

The leading actor, Danny Sapani puts on a dominant performance playing, Tshembe Matoseh - a man who has returned from England back to his birthplace in Africa for his father’s burial. His country (unnamed) is on the verge of revolution and a move to independence from white European rule.

Les Blancs (The Whites) puts under the microscope white supremacy and the ills of colonisation. It brilliantly depicts the elimination of one’s identity and the assimilation to the dominant culture. The minimalistic but creative style of the set and stage direction allowed us as the audience to vividly paint the setting and totally drew us into the performance of the cast.

Director Yaël Farber does an excellent job in portraying the different perspectives of how each character engages with society and all its flaws - for example, the ‘liberal’ one who is aware of oppression, but oblivious to the privileges it brings; the ‘rebel’, leading the frontline and prepared to lose one’s life for change; the traditionalist, the person in agreement of the dominant power and dismisses what was once one’s culture.

For the curious mind, Les Blancs does leave one thinking of many questions. As I rose from my seat in the auditorium I overheard someone say - “Why do human beings behave so inhumanely? How has this behaviour been normalized to just a dark part of history?” - yet countries still to this day reap the benefits.

As I left the National Theatre, walking outside being mesmerized by its architecture and its well-thought out lighting, I couldn’t help but think why haven’t I made more attempts to visit the theatre? Les Blancs was truly an entertaining play, with excellent stage production and cast; I could do this every week. However, these feelings were closely followed by a “permanent” dark cloud; white supremacy and colonisation and the evils it has stained society till this day.

I spoke with a colleague of mine, who has adopted the theatre as their second home:

Colleague: I left after the first part of the 3-hour performance of Les Blancs

Me: Why? It was unbelievable!

Colleague: When you have been to the theatre as much as I have and witness the same narratives (plays based on crime & slavery) of people who like me, it becomes mentally tiring and energy draining.

I could not deny her words as those are my exact feelings towards mainstream motion pictures. Yes, the movies that seem to have an unhealthy love infatuation with depicting people of colour as slaves, gangsters, angry black woman, the token black best friend and many other tired and unimaginative stereotypes that spring to mind. Nevertheless, my first National Theatre experience was not ruined after I was shown this perspective.

Visual performance is a powerful tool, whether intentionally or not it can represent attitudes and values of the world we are living in. Is the universe telling us when we see black skin, we see slaves or criminals, people who need to be “civilised” by stripping them off their humanity which was never for the taking in the first place?

Les Blancs is playing at the National Theatre till the 2nd June 2016. There are limited tickets ranging from £15 - £35. Visit https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/les-blancs/whats-on for more information.

Have you seen Les Blancs? What did you think?