Navigating a regime of terror: The Dark at The Tobacco Factory

Navigating a regime of terror: The Dark at The Tobacco Factory

‘As calling home our exiled friends abroad that fled the snares of watchful tyranny’ Act V, Scene VIII, Macbeth

Close your eyes to the darkness. We’re brought to 1978 where a four year old boy escapes Uganda with his mother. Travelling by Matatu minibus to flee Idi Amin’s bloody dictatorship they arrive in London. Nick Mahoka reflected upon the brutalities of Amin’s regime within his poetry collection Kingdom of Gravity.  Now 40 years later after his journey, Mahoka brings his story to the Tobacco Factory Theatre. With a masterful script built upon fractured memories, he draws upon nine other voices surrounding him and his mother on their journey in order to reflect upon the shaping of his own identity.

The director, Roy Alexander Weise, interlocks the journey of the mother and son with the charting of the regime of terror under Idi Amin. This is shown by the hand written dates illuminated on a projector screen.  The space is a rush of noise and flickering lights, filled with calls to battle and cries of terror. It’s a racing flight from darkness for those on the Matatu. The performance is so slick-  Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry deftly embody the various voices and switch dexterously between them. Mahoka’s words are vividly loaded with abstract imagery and yet he moulds touching comedy from the wake of darkness too.  The interplay of light and shade, devised by Stephenson and Brinkworth complement this and cement Makoha’s words to create a sublime performance.

We are brought into the world of a mother whose only option to protect her young son was to abandon their birthplace. Through the other nine voices, we have an insight into lives which have become momentarily brought together by this journey as they fervently try to escape the regime. Various themes are weaved into the story: the problematic legacies of colonialism and the expectations brought upon women when they become mothers. In doing so, the play not only comments on the manifestations of darkness within the despotic regime, but also the way in which a young boy then becomes othered in his arrival to British society. The silence of the audience which follows the play’s conclusion is raw; the audience seems to have held its breath for the whole play. We are left to process the final flicker of a light just extinguished - that which had separated us from the darkness.


Five Stars


Olivia Rutherford