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In Review: Children of Killers

John Freeman
While many of those of us in Europe may think of genocide in Rwanda as something that was over and done with 16 years ago, put to rest with the assistance of 'Truth and Reconciliation' commissions, this was never to be true for Rwandan survivors. Everyone knew people who had died; many people knew who the killers were. Many survivors were maimed. Fathers were imprisoned, women became heads of households, children grew up never having known their fathers - or, often, not knowing who their fathers were.

Eventually, if they expressed contrition, those fathers were released - but to whom? To mothers who had given birth to other men's children in their absence; to sons and daughters who knew why their fathers had been in prison; to daughters and sons of Hutu and Tutsi some of whom continued the blame and ethnic hatred. No wonder that the fathers' release was looked upon with ambivalence, tension and psychic confusion.

So, what was Dukes Young Actors Director Louie Ingham doing letting her group of mostly white, privileged young people loose on Katori Hall's script of Children of Killers? It must have seemed a risky choice. But Ms Ingham's instincts were clearly in the right place: not only must this have been a profound learning experience for the actors themselves on all sorts of dimensions, it also worked as an impressive piece of theatre.

Children of Killers is a disturbing, eye-opening but also extremely moving production. 'Realistic' scenes alternate with dream sequences, when gahahamuka (ghosts) come back to haunt the dreams of the living. The gahahamuka also function as the consciences of the living: consciences which sometimes go unheeded.

The actors immerse themselves thoroughly in this tragic, largely unacknowledged bit of post-genocide history and equally thoroughly convince in this short, tense dramaticisation of it. Civil war and its aftermath anywhere would raise similar issues. The play ends with the return of one father, 'The Butcher', who claims his wife's son as his own but rejects his son's younger sister. There is no simple, neat happy ending: for different reasons, truth and reconciliation remain ideals which are never (and can never ever be) fully lived up to.

It would seem inappropriate in a play such as this to single out individual glowing performances (although there were several), so I will not. Enough to say that the Young Actors as a team have produced a quite extraordinary play. This is not only because of their apparent empathy with young people from another, very different point on the planet, and their good acting skills, but also because of the sheer smoothness of the production. Congratulations to all involved.

Jane Sunderland

Still to run: Wednesday 2nd March 2 - Thursday 3rd March, 7.30 pm

The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster LA1 1QE Box Office 01524 598500
Tickets £6.00 (£4.00 concessions)
Recommended for ages 14+

Also playing at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Thursday 5th May, 7.00 pm
(Box office: 01539 725 133)

Further Reading...

New York Time Out - Interview with Katori Hall in 2009