at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 21st February 2012
It’s difficult to know what to think about Mogadishu, hence the delayed publishing of this review. Vivienne Franzmann’s debut play is based on her own experience as a teacher who was wrongly accused of attacking and making a racist slur towards a black student, Jason (Malachi Kirby). The subject of race which it tackles is intriguing, but there seem to be far more ‘issues’ involved than is strictly necessary, and the play quickly descends into melodrama in the second act.
It can’t be denied that Franzmann knows how to create drama; this is a narrative which genuinely engages an audience, but some plot twists at the end are predictable and clichéd. The basic story – that of a teacher being brought to the verge of destruction by a group of young people – would suffice on its own, for the padding around it is extraneous and convoluted. Alone, this would be enough to tackle the race question and force us to ask questions, but Franzmann’s details mean that idea is all but lost.
This is an uncomfortable play to watch; the white people are adults who are presented as being in the ‘right’, whilst the black people are ‘wrong’ and are seen to be liars (this is quite aside from the fact both groups are supremely stereotyped). It’s a quite disgustingly colonialist and racist stand to take, and although the roles become a little reversed at the end of the play, this doesn’t quite excuse the previous two hours. It’s quite possible Franzmann is making a comment about the society which engenders these roles and forces young black people into these positions, but the total lack of any external factors except the black father means they are presented as inherently ‘bad’.
Matthew Dunster’s staging, however, is energetic and relentless. Tom Scutt’s design uses a revolving cage to present various different scenes, and allows for dynamic exits and entrances. Philip Gladwell’s superb lighting evokes light and dark in equal measure whilst Ian Dickinson’s sounds of rattling chains and doors is haunting as it reverberates through the auditorium.
Some strong performances – particularly from a defiantly independent Jackie Clune as the wronged teacher Amanda and the touchingly naive Hammed Animashaun as Jordan, Jason’s friend – give some truth to the somewhat overblown text, but they aren’t quite enough to salvage the play. Mogadishu does ask a lot of questions, but when the one which keeps cropping up is “Is Vivienne Franzmann a racist?”, the play could probably do with some work.