Our Lady of Kibeho, Review | Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Named as one of the ‘unmissable’ pieces of theatre by The Guardian, Katori Hall’s ‘Our Lady of Kibeho’ directed by James Dacre, is a an epic undertaking of a true, if almost unbelievable, story.

In 1981 a village girl from the small rural community of Kibeho had her first vision of the Virgin Mary, and whilst she was initially shunned the visions spread to two more girls. The events that took place were incredible and disturbing in their accuracy of their prediction of the Rwandan genocide which was to come just 10 years later. With a topic of such importance and intricacy it is clear from both the script and the direction of the production that much research was undertaken to create what is undoubtedly a stand out play.

The audience were first transported to Rwanda through the simple yet effective set designed by Jonathan Fensom; the plants and flowers framing the stage, the working water pump and the recognisable institutional room, all allowed us to forget that we were in rainy cold Northampton for a couple of hours. The lush lighting along with the cinematic underscore undoubtedly elevated the production and completed the artistic vision. The acapella singing from the actors was exquisite and faithful to the Rwandan culture. The work of composer Orlando Gough and musical director Michael Henry not only intensified the action but also enraptured the audience as it enraptured the girls.

The cultural elements in the play had been accurately and expertly crafted, allowing members of the public who identified with the culture to really resonate to the underlying humanity of the story. Furthermore, the sense of community within the play is strong and the local community ensemble is an addition to the play that brings heart and sincerity to the production. There was an evident buzz from the audience about the nearly all black cast, and the excitement of accurate representation and portrayal on stage was vocalized by those seated around me.

The play has some very obvious central themes such as the role of the Catholic Church in Africa. This was explored skillfully particularly by the male members of the cast, Leo Wringer as the Bishop Gahamayi and Michael Mears as Father Flavia trod the line between satirical comedy and the sinister nature of power and control that men in his position had and still possess. Furthermore the sincerity of Ery Nzaramba as Father Tuyishime and his questioning nature allowed for the topic of religious apparitions to be explored respectfully.

There was an undercurrent of feminism and the difficulties women face in a male dominated culture, which was certainly relate-able to many of the audience regardless of culture. Michelle Asante as Sister Evangelique was perfect in the role of the sceptical matriarch of the school who both metaphorically and literally shut her eyes against the truth of the girls. The themes of division between men and women, the believers and non-believers, and most significantly the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s were balanced and appropriately subtle so as to emphasise the true reverence for the girl’s experiences.

Our Lady of Kibeho Pepter Lunkuse, Michella Asante. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The stand out actors were of course the three women who played the visionaries Alphonsine (Gabrielle Brooks), Anathalie (Yasmin Mwanza) and Marie-Clare (Pepter Lunkuse). Their humanity shone through throughout and the mixture of innocence and sincerity was evident in their performances, demonstrating a sincere respect for the real women of Kibeho Their inner and external conflict coupled with the everyday humour, allowed the audience to connect with the extraordinary story. Whilst the first act really established the dynamics within the college community, the second act was the stand out in the development of relationships, characters and truly left the audience questioning their own beliefs.

Whilst there were at points small issues with the special effects and the ‘religious apparitions’ moments were at times unbelievable, the difficult subject matter of ‘supernatural’  element was overall successfully handled and complemented the dark undercurrent of the reality of the Rwandan genocide. Our Lady of Kibeho is undoubtedly an important piece of work that is both entertaining and also shines a light on many important messages and realities of Rwandan history.

The play is funny, heart wrenching, filled with warmth and carries a weight of importance that cannot be denied. Do not be deterred by the heavy subject matter, this is a play that will leave you with a sense of how humanity can overcome, I would encourage theatregoers to see this before the run finishes.

Performance: Wed 16 Jan 2019, Royal & Derngate

About Rebecca Francis-Edwards 3 Articles
Rebecca is a drama teacher, actor and all round lover of theatre. She is new to the Northampton theatre scene, however is passionate about supporting the arts and artists. Becky dabbles in all areas of theatre in her spare time, her life really does revolve around the stage!