Hall's story of this "true event" opens with a confrontation between Sister Evangelique (Michelle Asante) and Father Tuyishime (Ery Nzaramba) over the fact that pupil Alphonsine Mumureke (Gabrielle Brooks) claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Few believe her at first, ridicule her and bully both her and anyone who supports her, however, soon another sees visions of the Virgin Mary, and then another, and soon this small little college in Kibeho, Rwanda is very much a focal point of attention.
As is happens, Hall's play works incredibly well on both levels, it's witty, surprisingly so from the outset, it doesn't preach regarding the religion, it just tells the story, and perhaps my greatest concern, the possession sequences are powerful, and never at any time at all, comical, as there is obvious potential to be. This latter comment is the most important perhaps and succeeds only because of the skill of the performers and the staging. If these sequences were to become comic, irrelevant of how much humour the script provides, the whole play would collapse.
Nzaramba is tremendously powerful as Father Tuyishime, balancing the agony of whether to believe these events over the responsibility he has for those in his care. Often at odds with the Father is Asante's Sister Evangelique, who also frequently provides great comic moments despite the power of the events unfolding. It never feels wrong to be laughing during this play such its the control within of Hall's balanced script.
Direction from James Dacre is smooth, scenes melting into one another with ease, as Jonathan Fensom's superb set morphs with equal ease. With the set and some stunning work from lighting design from Charles Balfour, we are quickly transfered from enclosed building to sweltering plains of Africa and back again into the dark dormitory and an extremely neatly realised confessional box. It looks good throughout, and with some stirring music from Orlando Gough, both live and recorded, it sounds sublime as well.
Our Lady of Kibeho is a surprise, it's a brilliant script, it has some superb performances, and is created on the Royal stage with style. It doesn't preach, it tells its story well, and works easily for this non-believer as a piece of brilliant theatre.
A stirring and captivating stage production of a superbly crafted play.
Performance reviewed: Tuesday 15th January 2019 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
Our Lady Of Kibeho runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 2nd February.