Heart of Darkness

Tron, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


OVER a century after it was first published, Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, refuses to gather quiet dust. Hailed as one of the greatest texts of Western literature by some and more recently as offensive and deplorable by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe and others, Conrad’s denunciation of Belgium’s colonial exploitation of the Congo also reflected the racist tropes and dehumanising prejudices that were current at the time. David Lammy’s recent condemnation of Comic Relief’s use of ‘white saviours’ to raise funds for communities in Africa is proof that old wounds haven’t healed.

Enter those resolutely disruptive theatre-makers, Imitating the Dog, with what they categorise as a re-telling of Conrad’s classic for today. It’s more like a provocative upheaval, actually. The original concept is reversed: instead of a white man, Marlow, travelling deep into the Congo to find the megalomaniac Kurtz, we have a Congolese woman, a detective, journeying through a war-torn Europe in search of a Kurtz now lording it over slave labour in derelict England.

Writers and directors Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks discard any attempt at an exact narrative fit, in favour of intercutting live video with film footage - clips from Apocalypse Now! recycle the theme of imperialism gone rogue - while, from time to time, the cast gather together to discuss ideas, clarify what they want to explore in terms of Empire-building, ‘civilisation’, moral authority and the lingering legacy of Europe’s conduct in Africa.

Across some two hours, we witness a collage of images and episodes that range from an 1970s television interview with the former commandant of Treblinka concentration camp to Marlow (Keicha Greenidge) encountering a similar self-justification and disregard for ‘others’ when she finally finds Kurtz.

Along the way, the cast of five ensure that no easy answers slip through the mesh of unsettling questions - Heart of Darkness still beats with insistent challenges.