BLACK BATTLES WITH DOGS
by Bernard Marie Koltes
Conceptual Studio Theatre Design
Bute Theatre RWCMD
Set on a French construction site in Nigeria, Koltes’ play presents a damning view of the impact colonialism continues to have on African countries. My design aims to encourage moral questioning and make a visual statement about the devastating effects of imperialist greed. I undertook extensive contextual research into the origins of colonialism and the 1880 Berlin conference which witnessed the indiscriminate division of African people with complete disregard for social cohesion. This research brought sharp focus to imagery of butchery and scarification.
Wanting to create an immersive theatre piece I decided to place the audience in the round, as if sat at a conference table, complicit in the crimes carried out. They are sat on the same plastic chairs (seen as symbols of capitalism) as the colonialist protagonists, Cal and Horn, encouraging imperial guilt.The play’s only setting is the white man’s construction site. It seemed hugely important that the audience felt trapped in a sort of lion’s den, a predatorial cage. The construction poles which surround the playing space are akin to traditional African settlements, however this site is an alien presence within the landscape surrounded by the unknown abyss of the crudely named “dark continent”. The African landscape is therefore only sensed by use of a vivid soundscape. The line through the centre of the space is firstly the sewer in which the body of the murdered tribesman, Alboury is found. This visual divide is also representative of modern Africa’s uncertain future; today ancient african ideals lie scattered under the pressure of modernity and nationalism; the bridge in the space stands defiant as the key to progress, but also as a ‘bulldozer’ of African identity. The fissure also represents the way in which colonialists built roads and railways to rob the continent of its natural resources.
In the storm sequence at the end it will be revealed that the audience have been sat on top of what appears to be ethnographic museum casements containing skewered objects from African sculptural traditions. Their weight pressing down on the construction poles which in turn skewer the cracked earth highlight how we must all take responsibility and share the guilt of our ancestors for the brutal and continued wiping out of African cultural traditions.