Our Lady of Kibeho is the name given to the Marian apparitions concerning several adolescents, in the 1980s in Kibeho, south-western Rwanda.
It begins at Kibeho college where a young girl, Alphonsine Mumureke, having claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary warning her of Rwanda becoming hell on Earth, is ignored and bullied by her schoolmates and faculty alike. Until another student, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka saw the vision, and then another, Marie-Claire Mukangango. All of a sudden, the impossible appeared to be true.
I will say it again and again. I am grateful for theatre. With the swill that makes up 80 percent of the school syllabus in England, and the focus being away from such beautiful and rich history, we need theatre to teach us about our world and this play delivers in droves.
The acting is in this play is exceptional. From Michelle Asante (Noughts & Crosses, Our Lady of Kibeho – Northampton) playing a spectacularly layered, saucy and salty Head nun ‘Sister Evangelique‘, to Taz Munya’s soft but yet steely ‘Alphonsine‘ , everyone on that stage was fabulous. But my favourite was the plucky and lovable bully Pepter Lunkuse (The Lost Land Girl, Our Lady of Kibeho Northampton) who gave life to ‘Marie-Claire‘ . She had such an incredible range of colours in her performance, especially because you find out over time that she too is hiding her true self away. She owned the night for me.
The direction and stage craft was perfect. But what really tugged my heart was the music. The brilliance of bringing Michael Henry as musical director on board by James Dacre cannot be overlooked. The music, especially because it was, I believe, a capella and therefore rooted in harmonies and in the cast’s souls, gave the whole piece a transcending level of light I cannot describe. That the music was authentically Rwandan in its sound and yet still giving glory to God was the clinch. If you have never been to an African church where they sing praise in their own language, you may not understand what I mean, but essentially, Michael Henry took the sauce that runs in the cast’s blood and used that to light up the stage in a way mere stage lights could never do.
Our Lady of Kibeho is witty and exceptionally well written. It does not go over any parts of history that we know regarding the Rwandan Genocide too deeply, but keeps the tension of its build up by reflecting the country’s existing Tutsi-Hutu tensions lightly but vividly. Katori Hall (the Mountaintop) is a genius with the pen and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The misogyny and cynicism of the Catholic Church is something Hall also draws notice to very well. Before the ‘Trinity’s‘ (as the girls came to be called) visions were confirmed by the church, the girls were met with resistance from the male figureheads such as ‘Bishop Gahamanyi‘ (Leo Wringer) and the Italian representative, ‘Father Flavia‘ (Michael Mears) sent to test them. But once the Bishop especially, realises how profitable for their diocese these girls could be, he suddenly starts singing a very different tune. This is a theme I believe all people are sadly too familiar with when it comes to the church. That for every person actually Holy and seeking to live a life of love in Christ, there is a person, who thrives in the “politics of Christ“. It is no surprise this play is on the top 50 play list of the best theatre shows of the 21st century.
Our Lady of Kibeho ran at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 2nd October 2019.