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Heart of Darkness

Updated: May 30, 2021

Pete Brooks and Andrew Quick, after Joseph Conrad

imitating the dog

Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford

16 April 2019 – 18 April 2019; 2hr 20min with 20min interval

imitating the dog in Heart of Darkness c Ed Waring
imitating the dog in Heart of Darkness. All pics: Ed Waring

This production was criticised by my colleague David Upton on its previous showing in Lancaster for the quality of its sound and the lack of complete lip-sync when the actors are projected in real-time on screens above the stage (sometimes with prepared background images, sometimes in distortion or left-right reverse, or more than one of those at once).

It’s all very clever technically, but it can be annoying when it doesn’t seem to be working 100 per cent as planned. Maybe the effect of some voices coming over both in natural sound and, occasionally, altered in timbre and with a bit of reverb from the sound system at the same time was all intentional, to make a point – but I wondered whether the fact that the sound technician is also the stage manager had something to do with it. A bit too much for one man to do?

And anyway, what was the point? imitating the dog (or IMITATING THE DOG, as the company also projects itself: all upper case or all lower seems to be OK, but not both) is pretty keen on making points, so you can’t be sure.

This version of Conrad’s story of finding an expat colonialist gone bananas in the Congo presents the story in an imaginary post-conflict, dystopian, back-to-the-dark-ages Europe, with the investigator a sane Congolese from a seemingly prosperous, modern and un-war-torn society in the DRC – a sort of ‘history could have turned out different’ approach. Oh, and she’s a girl.

It’s an interesting fantasy, but we could have done without all the interjected earnest reconstructions of the pre-production discussions on the issues involved… suggesting it’s really about the present day, and 'Farage and Boris Johnson and… Trump’. It isn’t – and the thing about history is that it’s what actually turned out, not what might have. I wonder how many of the creatives have actually seen Africa from the ground up.

The technical issues didn’t really bother me, though in the end the only thing that was done consistently was to present the adaptation as if making a film, with the screenplay directions dictated to the audience as camera angles were set up. Better to make a real film, perhaps.

In the multi-character, five-strong cast, Manchester-trained Keicha Greenidge is private eye Marlow (funny name, eh?), and she and Matt Prendergast have the lion’s share of the play and chew it up very well between them.


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