The Observer, at the National Theatre, Cottesloe

The Observer

she couldn't get enough of his invisible piano routine

Moral dilemmas, racial tensions, and political anxieties are brought to life in Matt Chapman’s play ‘The Observer’. It is the eve of one West African country’s first democratic election and a group of English observers are there to oversee its running. Where however is the line between mere observation and intervention?

Fiona Russell, deputy chief of the observation team, is passionate about spreading democracy. And when the current president, who is not afraid of using violence against opposers, loses in the first round, she realises that if she can register 50, 000 more voters from urban areas the opposition may win outright.


Democracy, freedom of speech and expression maybe taken for granted by some, as Fiona points out that people in her hometown Leeds are not bothered to vote. But like ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, which was recently playing at the National Theatre, it raises deeper concerns: Is western influence, even if vying for democracy, always beneficial? And is observation simply an extension of colonialism?


Fiona is represented as a strong heroine. Her readiness to exert her influence, unlike former colonial heroines like E.M. Forster’s Mrs. Moore, are seen as favorable. Anna Chancellor, who plays Fiona, and Chuk Iwuji, who plays her translator Daniel Okeke, shine onstage as the characters under Richard Eyre’s direction.


This timely piece is gripping to watch, with its interception of news reports and quick scene changes, and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Highly recommended.


To see or not to see: * * * *


Read the original review of The Observer on the National Theatre’s website here


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