Skip to main content

Theatre review A captivating insight into a forgotten leader

SIMON PARSONS recommends a play that dissects the Rwandan genocide

The Playground Theatre, London


IT’S 30 years since Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira’s plane was shot down when returning to Kigali from ongoing peace talks between the Hutu and Tutsi, leaving chemistry professor and prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana nominally in charge of an unstable country.

The assassination, blamed on the Tutsi minority, was the trigger for the mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu. In the following 100 days, 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered, a frenzied genocide that killed three-quarters of the Rwandan Tutsi population.

As acting head of state for only 14 hours before she in turn was murdered, this pioneer of girls’ education, women’s rights and advocate of ethnic reconciliation is the subject of Angela J Davis’s carefully researched, award-winning play.

Natasha Bain gives an outstanding performance as the former education minister who turns to UN peacekeepers when she learns that her name is on a kill list. Agathe’s protective instinct for her five children and passion for education are the key ingredients for Bain’s recreation of the brave, dignified and poignant figure whose knowing sacrifice is at the heart of this play.

Holed up at the university and then the UN compound during the last few days of her life, this brief insight into a largely unknown figure lashes out at many of the causes of the genocide and the ineffectuality of the toothless UN military observers there to help implement the peace agreement but devoid of the necessary US support.

Directed by Mukul Ahmed, the 80-minute production has elements of vivid description as the horrific events unfold off stage, but does not lack warmth or humour.

Largely a drama of the ineffectuality of the few figures who might have provided restraint, the rapid deterioration of order into genocide is shown to be a carefully calculated, well-planned ethnic cleansing by armed militia aroused by virulent anti-Tutsi propaganda along with Hutu military training and support.

The frequency of scene changes, there to suggest the pace of events, is not always effective but the passion of the performers and their reactions to external events and each other makes for a captivating insight into a forgotten leader and the barbaric recent history of a country our current government claims to be a safe haven for refugees.

Runs until May 4, box office:


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.



Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 7,865
We need:£ 10,145
14 Days remaining
Donate today