BWW Review: THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, Crucible, Sheffield
The Last King of Scotland is an adaptation of Giles Foden's novel set in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin Dada.
It focuses on a (fictional) Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (Daniel Portman) who gets caught up in Amin's world - and makes a series of moral compromises as he continues his association with Amin, even when the atrocities of the regime become too glaring to ignore.
As Idi Amin, Tobi Bamtefa gives a powerhouse performance, presenting a character who is both a comic grotesque and a sinister monster - his displays of bravado and bluster are simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. In the way Amin has been written and performed, it's clear that there's an intention to highlight the parallels with certain current world leaders (at one point he even denounces the press as "false news").
The 11-strong cast are supported by four members of Sheffield People's Theatre and this helps give a real sense of energy to the crowd scenes - including a couple of entertaining dance numbers at a party, moments before the true horrors of Amin's agenda are revealed and stop the celebrations cold.
The show, directed by Gbolahan Obisesan, is beautifully staged, costumed and lit, and (the odd wandering accent aside) well performed. It suffers a little in the second act from odd pacing: some scenes are a little laboured, and there's a throwaway subplot about a potential romantic interest for Garrigan that never goes anywhere - the play would have been tighter without it.
Overall, however, it is an engaging piece that is both funny and tragic - some may find there is a little too much humour, considering the the subject matter, but for me the balance mostly worked. It's a shame we don't see much of Amin's rise to power, as it's hard to understand why he was so initially popular, but the play does a good job at demonstrating how devastating it can be when one individual wields so much power.
It's good to see a mostly black cast take centre stage at the Crucible - although (as in the source material) the story focuses primarily on a white man. However, Garrigan isn't portrayed here as a character we are meant to sympathise with - unlike many of the Ugandan characters. Instead, he represents the kind of person who starts out meaning to do good, but quickly becomes compromised through keeping themselves safe rather than standing up against evil.
Although this production never really hits the heights of another recent literary adaptation, Life of Pi, it is an engaging watch with a standout performance from Bamtefa. It's also a timely reminder that it is all too easy for a tyrant to achieve power, and for people who believe themselves 'good' to facilitate the abuse of that power by failing to stand against it.
The Last King of Scotland is at the Crucible, Sheffield until 19 October.
Photo by Helen Murray