Set in a rural roadside brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruined can be tough going. Covering topics including warfare, prostitution, rape, mutilation and child murder, it feels almost like a kitchen sink drama in places – a slice of life, but a pretty difficult life to stomach watching.
Sophie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and Salima (Michelle Asante) arrive at the house of the indomitable Mama Nadi (Jenny Jules) on the same truck as cartons of cigarettes and Belgian chocolates. As the play progresses, Mama is forced to reassess her business priorities in light of the war raging around them and the particular needs of these two girls, and this is the central push of the narrative. It never really feels quite enough, however, and if the play wasn’t as funny and deftly written as it is, there’d be a danger of this descending into simply an observation of unremitting misery and unpleasantness. It is the final revelation by Mami Nadi, and the superb unity that this brings to the plot, that makes his work so affecting.
There are some very solid performances here, principally from Bennett-Warner, Asante and Jules, but Kehinde Fadipe’s dancing deserves special mention, as does Silas Carson’s utterly bizarre accent.
The staging is superb, with the jungle seeming to take over the Almeida and the action moving effortlessly between scenes as the entire stage shifts on its axis.
This is a really excellent play about difficult subjects, never descending into the peddling of emotion for its own sake but truly affecting in its conclusion.