Whenever I go to see a play at the National Theatre I’m always upset by how visibly white and middle-class the audience seems to be. However, sitting down to watch Yaël Farber’s Les Blancs, I noticed how many more people of colour there were in the audience. Although still not the majority, it was definitely a much higher percentage. Already I knew that I was sitting down to watch an important play.
Les Blancs centres around ‘an African country [that] teeters on the edge of civil war. A society [that] prepares to drive out its colonial present and claim an independent future. Racial tensions boil over. Tshembe, returned home from England for his father’s funeral, finds himself in the eye of the storm.’
Sat front row in the stalls, the play had an almost cinematic feel for me. Four traditional singers provided the soundtrack, Sheila Atim as ‘The Woman’ provided a powerful and breathtaking motif, and before any dialogue had been shared between characters I already felt completely part of the world I was watching.
Les Blancs unapologetically made me face the history I had, as a white person, of colonialism. At times I felt uncomfortable, angry, upset, but also incredibly happy that I was watching a piece of theatre that was educating me, and more importantly, showing me the mistakes that had been made in the past, and that are still happening, so that I can do something to change them.
Half the battle when causing some serious change in the world is tackling people’s attitudes. Les Blancs did just that. Rather than just having a great time spending my evening watching a piece of theatre, I came out more aware of a completely relevant problem and therefore solidifying a previously uninformed and therefore flimsy attitude towards it. However changed I now feel, I never once felt I was being preached to, or given a biased point of view on the situation. Instead, a story got told from all sides and I felt empathetic to everyone, which made the actual unjust reality of the situation so obvious from an objective point of view; no matter how some characters thought they were doing was right, as an audience member you could still tell that it was wrong.
More stories like this need to be told in our theatres and on our screens. Just because the Western part of the world has been ‘on top’ for so long doesn’t erase centuries of history from other parts of the world. My history lessons in school were incredibly biased and fairly lax, so I want to be educated. I don’t care if I have to feel uncomfortable and ashamed of the mistakes made by my ancestors, I want to see stories told that begin to make a more diverse group of people feel welcome and excited to come to the theatre. I want to one day sit down to watch a play at the National Theatre and see an audience that represents the diversity of the city I live in.