Doncaster show throws new light into Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

A new interpretation of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel Heart of Darkness turns the whole story on its head to update it for the present day.

By Julia Armstrong
Thursday, 28 February, 2019, 13:47
Matt Prendergast and Keicha Greenidge in Heart of Darkness

So, instead of being set in colonial Africa, the action takes place in a modern Europe very different to our own and the lead character is a black African woman, not a white European man.

Director Andrew Quick from digital theatre makers imitating the dog explained why.

“When we were making work over the last 10 years, when we were rehearsing it was a novel that kept coming up in our discussions – we said, ‘it’s a Heart of Darkness moment’.

“It was in our heads, I suppose, as a reference and then we did an adaptation of A Farewell to Arms in 2014. We knew that in the next four to five years we would do another novel.

“When it came to thinking about what would be interesting back in 2016, all the debates were around the UK and its relationship to Europe and the sense of what Britain was as a country, looking at its imperialist past and imagining its future, whatever that might be.

“Heart of Darkness deals with those ideas, albeit from 100 years ago. It’s not a Brexit play by any means but it’s definitely affected the way we’ve approached it.

“The novel deals with this idea of empire and trade and just what the moral is of a global capitalism. It’s an adventure story with that in the background.”

Similarly, the film Apocalypse Now was based on Conrad’s book and that moved the action to the Vietnam war.

Andrew said they soon came up against all the old-fashioned colonialist and racist ideas in the book about Africa and its people and looked at how to present it to a modern audience. 

He said they imagined an Africa “that was not ravaged by imperialism. It is relatively peaceful and prosperous without colonialism”.

By contrast, Europe has been ravaged by a long war and an African woman comes to find the heart of darkness there.

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“We realised that the heart of darkness is not in Africa, it’s been in Europe all the time,” said Andrew.

He said that during part of the show, the cast tell the story of the adaptation and the decisions they made. 

Andrew said: “I’m very proud of this piece. It’s very entertaining and it’s a story and we kind of create this live graphic novel using a green screen.

“It’s like they’re being filmed and being transformed and released into these cinematic worlds with a collage of bits of history around them.”

He said the kaleidoscopic effects would be reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, as well as how overwhelmed the characters in Heart of Darkness are by what Conrad described as the “primeval savagery of landscape” in Africa.

Andrew added: “It all comes back to this anxiety of 2016 – where are we going and where are we now and harking back to a golden age of empire.

“We wanted to question it.

“All our works are very concerned about history and imagining other stories that come out o f thinking about the past and imagining the future.

“I think that Conrad was brilliant at that.”

Heart of Darkness is at Cast in Doncaster on March 5 and 6. Tickets: www.castindoncaster.com