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Review Round-up: Does Ruined Live Up to Pulitzer?

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American Lynn Nottage's new drama Ruined, which received its European premiere at the Almeida Theatre last Thursday (22 April 2010, previews from 15 April), arrives with not just a Pulitzer Prize but also a slew of Best Play awards to its name – and, as far as most London critics are concerned, has proved that it deserves them.

The play, inspired by Brecht's Mother Courage, is set in a bar-cum-brothel in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As tales of local atrocities spread and tensions between rebels and government militia rise, shrewd Mama Nadi must reassess her business priorities and personal loyalties when two “ruined” girls arrive on her doorstep seeking shelter.

Jenny Jules stars as Mama Nadi in a cast that also features Lucian Msamati, Pippa Bennett-Warner and Michelle Asante as well as Damola Adelaja, David Ajala, Silas Carson, Kehinde Fadipe, Joel Kangudi, Okezie Morro and Steve Toussaint.

Ruined was first seen in a co-production between the Manhattan Theatre Club and Chicago's Goodman Theatre last year. The new Almeida production is directed by Indhu Rubasingham and designed by Robert Jones. It continues until 5 June 2010.

** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to RUINED on 13 May 2010, including a FREE drink & access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show reception with the cast - click here for details! **

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “War, rape and pillage form the background to American playwright Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined, a rumble in the jungle which is set in a bar brothel near a small mining town in the Congo... It’s a tinder-box situation, kept simmering with infectious onstage music... Nottage, who researched the play by visiting the tragic district and talking to many local people, creates a vivid and depressing picture of a hell-hole where the militia clean up and everyone else suffers; but women suffer most. Indhu Rubasingham’s production ... has an oppressive, dank and teeming jungle atmosphere but cannot fully disguise the somewhat flat and platitudinous quality of the writing... Jenny Jules holds it all together with a quicksilver display of accommodation and cunning, making the best of a bad job, like Mother Courage, but finding humanity in horror, too.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Lynn Nottage's play arrives in London laden with American honours. And rightly so... It reminds us of the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which rarely makes the front pages but has led to 5.4 million deaths... What Nottage brings out strongly is the multiple sufferings inflicted on women... Without minimising the pain, it becomes a tribute to women's endurance... Direction, design and acting are also first-rate... Jenny Jules excellently captures all Mama's qualities: her arrogance and pride, her limited economic vision, and her maternal protectiveness... It's not merely a good play. It jolts our conscience about a forgotten conflict. One emerges both shaken and stirred.”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “Engaging where it might in less skilful hands have been crassly confrontational, it’s a disturbing portrait of the conflict that continues to convulse the Democratic Republic of Congo — leavened by some sweet humour and an affirmation of the potency of love... The women are treated as property, and this reflects the larger ills of a society that, in its rich supply of raw materials and resulting lawlessness, resembles the Wild West. There are sympathetic performances by Jenny Jules as Mama, a slinky version of Brecht’s Mother Courage, and Lucian Msamati as Christian, a poetic Mr Fix-It... This is an exceptionally powerful piece of writing, and Indhu Rubasingham’s direction proves pulsatingly intelligent, while the rough and unfamiliar setting is brilliantly realised by designer Robert Jones. At times, Ruined may be sentimental and preachy, yet it satisfies deeply.”
  • Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “Even if you didn’t know that one starting-point for this imaginative response was Brecht’s Mother Courage, you’d fairly likely spot the connections… Nottage’s play reaches too obviously for a reassuring resolution. Some of its characterisation remains frustratingly sketchy. And the song-and music-drenched ‘devil-may-care’ bar atmosphere veers at times towards a soothing species of exotic entertainment. Yet it’s easy to see why Ruined has scooped the Pulitzer Prize… It shines an invaluable light on an area of the world most of us know too little about, or choose to ignore. And it starkly delineates the gruesome gender divide in conflicts of this kind… Jenny Jules mines the part of Mama Nadi for all its glittering, multi-faceted insouciance, sternness and furtive tenderness; Pippa Bennett-Warner captivates as the shy but resilient Sophie, casting cares aside in exquisite song-interludes; and Lucian Msamati introduces a rare and welcome note of masculine propriety and poetical sensitivity as the war-weary salesman, Christian. Recommended.”
  • Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (four stars) – “Lynn Nottage’s superb, Pulitzer prize-winning play, receiving its European premiere here, is certainly harrowing… It is also, remarkably, often funny and not without hope. This is a play not just about brutality but also about survival, as Indhu Rubasingham’s exemplary production makes clear… Rubasingham ratchets up the tension… But there are moments of tenderness too, which the cast bring out beautifully… The play could do more to substantiate the male characters, to convey the intricacies of the conflict and to examine why rape is used in this way. But this is a brave, significant and humane drama. And Rubasingham’s fine staging, laced with evocative music, brings home the way the atrocities of war have ruined not just Sophie, but nearly everyone on stage.”
  • Lucy Powell in Metro (five stars) – “Bearing heavy overtones of Brecht, politics swill around the stage… You could quibble. The directorial arsenal of Indhu Rubasingham is at times lamentably monotonal, supposedly terrifying commanders stutter and Nottage’s script carries some ungainly oddities… But there’s no arguing with the devastating triumvirate of defiant women at this play’s heart. Jenny Jules’ Mama Nadi is a superbly unrepentant, puffed-up creation and Pippa Bennett-Warner and Michelle Asante are equally potent as the damaged goods she shelters. Nottage doesn’t flinch from unearthing a pit of ruination in her tightly plotted play. But its haunting beauty lies in its insistence on the undying possibility of renewal. Extraordinary.”
  • ** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to RUINED on 13 May 2010, including a FREE drink & access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show reception with the cast - click here for details! **


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