Stunning portrayal of charismatic, brutal dictator in Sheffield Crucible's new show, Last King of Scotland
The Last King of Scotland, a fictional story set amid the real brutality of Idi Amin’s Uganda in the 1970s, has the power to shock but not enthrall.
A stage adaptation of the Giles Foden novel that also inspired a 2007 film has just premiered at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
The first half involves a lot of scene setting as Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor working in Uganda, meets Amin, who has just taken over in a military coup, when he treats him for an injury.
Garrigan is appointed as the president’s personal physician and is gradually drawn into his inner circle. Flattered by the attention and the good life, he looks away from the horror outside – torture and mass murder of enemies.
Tobi Bamtefa is extraordinary as Amin, showing the power to charm and huge charisma, then flicking in an instant to cold-blooded power.
That is done deftly when Amin uses a celebratory banquet to declare to shocked guests that Asians who run the majority of Ugandan businesses will be expelled, then returns to his party.
It is hard for Daniel Portman to compete as Garrigan, the story’s central character. He is only fully convincing in the closing scenes as madness descends on the regime.
Akuc Boc as Amin’s estranged wife Kay and John Omole as her lover and Garrigan’s colleague Peter, are excellent as victims of Amin’s rage.
We learn their fates in brilliantly shocking scenes that involve an amazing set switch and props.
The fantastic Peter Hamilton Dyer is under-used as ambassador Perkins, at the centre of a plot to use Garrigan to undermine or even kill Amin as he slips out of British control and influence.
At times it feels like director Gbolohan Obisesan has thrown too much into the mix. Crowd scenes and appearances by journalists help to move the history on but also slow the plot down.
A gripping and at times stomach churning second half almost makes up for a slow start to the play, which is still well worth seeing.