By Jamie Moore
American playwright Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho moves, informs, thrills and spooks in equal measure, taking as its subject-matter the real life accounts of Catholic schoolgirls in Kibeho, Rwanda, who claimed to be in commune with the Virgin Mary. This ethereal play is directed by James Dacre, Artistic Director of the Royal & Derngate, who worked previously with writer Katori Hall on her play The Mountaintop at Theatre503 before transferring to the West End where it earned Katori Hall an Olivier Award for her efforts.
Our Lady of Kibeho tells the story of three girls living in Catholic boarding school Kibeho College in Rwanda in the early 80s. The girls claimed that the Virgin Mary––who, locally, was granted the eponymous title of ‘ Our Lady of Kibeho’–– had revealed herself to them, warning that Rwanda was to become a hell on Earth should the minds of men not be altered. The eerie prescience of this prophecy became apparent in 1994 when up to a million Rwandans were murdered as part of the Hutu-led government’s attempt to purge the Tutsi and their allies.
Equipped with Hall’s rigorously researched, deft and beautifully wrought play, Dacre and an exceptional cast of actors foster an atmosphere of explosive tension; sometimes funny, always engaging and occasionally terrifying. As the spirit of Mary manifests itself, doors slam, balls hover mid-flight and furniture floats; the apparition brings the Rwandan schoolgirls to their knees, singing praises; conduits to the spiritual realm.
Dacre’s directorial finesse in consort with excellent production design renders these otherworldly occurrences completely believable and compelling. Taz Munya’s Alphonsine captivates as her eyes glaze with rapture; as she stares out over the audience’s heads at the invisible holy visitant. All aspects of this production align to deliver an unforgettable evening of theatrical magic.
Plays until 2 November 2019
Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Square, East London, E15 1BN