Nick Ward has created this superb play from Conrad’s short story An outpost of Progress. The story is set in a remote part of the African jungle, where two agents have been sort to operate an isolated station that trades in pearls. The managing director is a greedy, ruthless man who has chosen the two men, Kayerts and Carlier, without really assessing their ability to endure the isolation of the African bush- he simply wants a steady flow of pearls to trade.
With the exception of Makota, a native who speaks no English, the men are left to fill the long, hot days alone. As weeks pass without procuring any pearls, the men become demoralised and their actions bear the mark of a feverish delirium. Increasingly, their frenetic dialogue is punctuated by the song of Makota which, in its pure, elemental sounds, seems to express what the men cannot.
This dark, thought-provoking play suggests that it is not any lack of civilisation in Africa that causes these two men to regress, but that the emptiness at the centre of civilisation has never tested them or equipped them with the moral fortitude to survive.