‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
This popular quote keeps coming to my mind since watching Ken Urban’s Sense of an Ending at Theatre503. Marking the 21st anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, in which over 800,000 people were massacred in just 100 days, the play attempts to make sense of the horrific events through the eyes of an outsider: an American journalist, Charles, visiting Rwanda five years after the genocide, and looking for a story to revive his career.
His assignment: to interview two Hutu nuns, accused of involvement in the horrific murder of hundreds of Tutsis at their church. Before the nuns’ upcoming trial in Belgium, Charles must try to find out the truth about what happened that night, but he soon comes to realise that the one single truth he’s searching for may not exist, and that sometimes there’s no such thing as right or wrong, only different shades of the two.
The ultimate question in Sense of an Ending is one of responsibility, and yet the play’s focus is never really on those who wielded the machetes during those 100 bloody days back in 1994. Instead, Urban chooses to turn the spotlight on the people – and nations – who stood by and let the killing happen, inviting us to consider whether inaction constitutes an equal level of guilt, and is therefore just as hard to forgive.
Against a backdrop of coloured glass that brings constantly to mind the ruined church at the heart of the story, the characters move on and off set, in a series of short scenes that give the play a feeling of urgency. Even when not on stage, the actors remain visible behind the glass, silent figures bearing witness to the stories unfolding in horrifying detail before us. While the violence may be long over, we’re nonetheless transported back in time by the vivid descriptions of the slaughter. ‘I want you to see what I tell you,’ says Dusabi, a survivor of the genocide. And, just like Charles, we do see it, all of it, without ever leaving the harshly lit, bare room in which the play is set.
Akiya Henry and Lynette Clarke perfectly encapsulate the vulnerability of the two nuns and their terror of what may lie ahead, whilst maintaining the hint of a secret waiting to be revealed. The sight and sound of Sister Alice singing ‘Jesus loves me’ will, I think, stay with me for a very long time. Ben Onwukwe is excellent as Charles, transforming before our eyes as he begins to learn what happened in Rwanda, and why, and fighting his own private demons along the way. Abubakar Salim and Kevin Golding are similarly impressive as victims of the genocide, working through their grief and anger in very different – and sometimes unexpected – ways.
Sense of an Ending is a powerful, moving examination of an event that many of us will remember, but probably rarely think about. A thoughtful discussion of responsibility, truth and the possibility of forgiveness in the face of unspeakable acts, the play serves as both a haunting tribute to the thousands of people who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and a timely reminder of what can happen when we stand aside and let hate win.
Review by Liz Dyer
Sense Of An Ending
by Ken Urban
“The weight of what is to come is unbearable. It is crushing me”
Charles, a disgraced New York Times journalist, arrives in Rwanda for an exclusive interview with two Hutu nuns. Charged with war crimes during the 1994 genocide, the nuns must convince the world of their innocence or face a lifetime in prison. When an unknown survivor contradicts their story, Charles must choose which version of the truth to believe.
Ken Urban’s award-winning Sense of an Ending shines a light on journalistic truth and morality amid the atrocity of the Rwandan genocide.
Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, and marking the 21st anniversary of the genocide, this compelling political thriller asks if forgiveness is possible in a situation where truth is never simple.
@SOAE2015 / #SOAEplay
12 May – 6 June, 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm)
£15/£12 (Pay What You Can Sundays)
Saturday 16th May 2015