By Uchenna Izundu
Thursday, September 10, 2009.
It is four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and exposed the stark chasm between the rich and poor, Black America and White America.
Jonathan Holmes’ promenade production reflects on the aftermath of the subsequent pandemonium. The cast is led by Beatrice (Andrea Harris), who wades through the water with the body of her dead partner Virgil, to New Orleans City Hall. During her journey we meet other residents from the disaster and their experiences are heart-wrenching as the incompetence of the authorities is laid bare.
There’s the account of a wrongfully convicted murderer using mop handles to break down his cell walls as the water levels rise; a tourist couple that are shocked by the police’s hostility in trying to leave New Orleans; a singer desperate to protect her family, and a hustler surprised by his need to help his community rather than loot it.
Although the cast give powerful performances, the key difficulty with their testimonies which are delivered as monologues is that they breach the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. The themes are repetitive and lack texture, but are dotted with some humour. And what is missing is the voice of an official to give an insight into the shambles of the aid and rescue mission.
In the Bargehouse on Oxo Tower Wharf, the staging lacks dynamism making it uncomfortable to troop from the introduction to New Orleans in a tourist bar to the Funky Butt bar, to be entertained by Miranda (Wunmi Mosaku) as televisions relay storm warnings. On the third floor, the Funky Butt is askew with the hell of post-Katrina devastation, ghostly Mardi Gras masks, and vandalism. On the fourth floor, we become part of the congregation at Virgil’s funeral attended by slick mourners in white suits and a hearty blues song passionately sung by trombonist Michael Mwenso.
It is a relief when the grave ambience abruptly shifts into a celebration of Virgil, bordering on a gospel praise and worship style, in which the audience is invited to dance.
This symbolizes the city’s faith and hope, as it weeps for the almost 2,000 people who died in the aftermath. But somehow, strangely, it dampens the fact that this catastrophe could happen today in America and that the officials so blatantly betrayed its citizens.
Uchenna Izundu is a journalist, editor and writer. She co-chairs Aspire, a support network for Black and minority ethnic journalists in the UK. She lives in London.
Katrina is showing until September 26, 2009, at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, London.
Young Vic Box Office: 020 7922 2922