Napoleon Noir, Lost Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Rd
Haiti is a nation rich in history; amongst its tales of turmoil it's a nation of resilience, strength and honour. Much like its prodigal son, Toussaint L'Ouverture much can be said for a country so intent on gaining its freedom , its motto at the time (19th century) became "live free or die". Clearly an inspirational history; so of course one would expect a production which explores the life of L'Ouverture to be just as inspired. And indeed it starts with the poetic utterances of a hero that one would expect after a quite passionate introduction from a Yoruba High priestess/Goddess which one would not expect. In fact the play is awash with unexpected elements which serve to distract rather than to complement the play.
I'll be the first to admit I am not the biggest fan of musicals but I do appreciate and applaud a stage production that utilises the musical arts to enhance its core message. In this instance I did not appreciate it and on more than occasion found myself counting down the decibels until the musical piece came to an end. I admit the musical score itself was extremely well composed and the "Lord's prayer" sung by the 'slave' members of the cast was exceptional but I found it unnecessary. It had no real place in a story which on its own had the propensity to capture an audience's intrigue without the cast breaking out in song. At times the choreography was almost too much, over powering the essence of this fragile story.
The cast itself was good-not always exceptional but good. Our protagonist played by Cavin Cornwall was believable, yet the character of L'Ouverture seemed egocentric, often referring to himself in third person which undermined the idea that he was fighting for the people. It began to feel, at times as though he were fighting to maintain his own station, his own grandeur. Not being an expert in his life story I cannot say if this was the intention. However if Hannah Kaye (director) had allowed more focus on him perhaps one would understand the true depth of his character.
His lover Mireille was over-acted and at times unconvincing played by Katrin Nale but there were moments when it suited the neurotic nymph-like nature of the character. The Mighty Zulu Nation who played the island natives were superb but would have been best placed in their own production. My only other issue with the play was with the inconsistency of accents of some of the actors. I understand that a French accent may be difficult to master but it's the least I expect from well trained actors is an attempt albeit a weak one. Without such an attempt the authenticity of the play becomes questionable.
I recommend this play to anyone who wants an initial insight into Haitian history; it serves as a decent introduction into the lives of one of the great revolutionaries of world history.
Napoleon Noir is on until 6 June, 2010.