Stella Feehily’s new play, which arrives at the Royal Court Upstairs as part of Out of Joint’s national tour, places a piercing spotlight on foreign aid workers and journalists.
It centres on Sadhbh, an Irish 29-year-old who finds herself torn between a settled family life and her dedication to her work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her partner, the older and wearier Stephen, is a former NGO now doing consultancy for Shell who throws down a gauntlet when he’s offered a big money job in China.
At the other end of the spectrum we have Mathilde, a wet-behind-the-ears French girl who acts as Sadhbh’s assistant but soon finds herself out of her depth at the Congolese aid compound. Her romantic interest comes in the form of Vin, a posh young graduate with an SLR camera and questionable motivations for its use.
The narrative is balanced in its approach to the issues, and the script feels dense with research - Feehily has done her homework and it shows. But the underlying drama and the predicaments the protagonists face are all-too familiar; I came hoping to have my eyes opened, but instead found my lids were too often drooping.
Orla Fitzgerald gives a heartfelt central performance as Sadhbh, especially in a smart scene towards the end when she celebrates her 30th birthday in Donegal and realises the extent to which her career choice has impacted her personal life. And there are some fine supporting performances, especially from Babou Ceesay as smooth-talking despot Colonel Mburame and Paul Hickey as a jaded journalist who’s “fucked everything from here to Bujumbura”.
Max Stafford-Clark marshals the action with trademark precision, evoking the play’s disparate settings with great atmosphere and ensuring a few shocks along the way. But there’s something altogether underwhelming about Bang Bang Bang, leaving the overriding impression that the commendable levels of research have somehow blunted the drama.