Following its success in a pilot version in 2009, we developed and staged the complete version of this piece at Camden People’s Theatre 2-19 November 2011. It was then shown at Southwark Cathedral and Amnesty International’s Human Rights Resource Centre in London in January 2012. In 2013, with funding from the Royal Victoria Hall Foundation, it was shown again at Amnesty International.
A Place at the Table is a company-devised performance that explores the conflicting narratives which have shaped Burundian history, and that of the wider ‘African Great Lakes’ region. Using documentary and verbatim material generated through workshops with campaigners and refugees as a starting point, it centres on the 1993 coup in which President Ndadaye was assassinated (one of the triggers for the Rwandan genocide) but also goes back through colonial history to the ancient myths that shape national identity. Though rooted in fact and developed in collaboration with two campaigning journalists, the play offers the audience a highly theatrical experience that attempts to explore the subtle, dangerous relationships between history, myth, identity and violence.
Gradually the table at which the audience is seated is transformed: panels are removed revealing soil underneath. It becomes a mine, a grave, an archeological dig, a crime scene, a fertile place for new growth. Finally, everyone comes together to honour the dead as the cast serve the audience food and invite them to stay round the table to eat, drink and talk. This open discussion between cast and audience is, in effect, the final part of the devising process, allowing the audience’s responses to shape the final section of the performance.
The audience is welcomed and invited to sit at a table with the actors. The show starts as a UN conference, with various eye-witnesses giving contradictory accounts of the coup. The material expands to take in Burundi’s history and founding mythology. Testimonies emerge as the table becomes a kitchen, a cafe, a stage, a radio-presenter’s desk… As the performance goes on the performers cannot hold themselves from sharing their own responses: a dance, a poem, a political theory. Even the sound technician starts to sing.
Burundi is a country with a rich but often tragic past. This history is little known in the UK and the country is overshadowed in the media by its neighbours Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. By examining each company member’s subjective responses to the sometimes harrowing source material, A Place at the Table invites the audience to share the company’s experience of researching and making the show. It is an attempt to bring cast and audience together with those whose stories have been told, as equals around the table.
A small selection of what the press and audience said:
…simply amazing and a touch overwhelming. This is a strong, thought provoking production that from the start makes the audience part of the performance…. It manages to force you to think beyond a monstrous period in history and reflect on current human experiences from Gaza to Brixton and locate the moments of crossover and not see them as isolated occurrences distant from our personal realities. The cast is tight, the production involving and no matter what, you will leave this production having had a life-altering experience.
– Elvina Quaison – Afridiziak Theatre News
…Director and designer Paul Burgess has created a brilliant visual platform for this sprawling narrative via the set. Both the audience and cast are seated around a large conference table, as if at a Security Council meeting. The actors go around, over, under and even into the table, while playing various roles in a series of loosely-connected scenes punctuated by live video projection, song and dance. …it’s a powerful testament to the act of bearing witness, and A Place at the Table provides a vital dialogue that Burundi’s many dead were denied in life.
– Tamara Gausi – Time Out
…It’s a fantastically confident show, one that deserves a long life in different locations; and for all the darkness in the story, it leaves you inspired and exhilarated, both by the potential of theatre and the human capacity for hope.
– Jonathan Wakeham, board director of Camden People’s Theatre and arts consultant on his blog, Mastersvo.
Loved it. Powerful, moving and interesting… Extremely brave subject… Enjoyed being part off the performance/sitting around the table without it being intimidating… I didn’t know what to expect, but it was fab! I felt like I learnt something today…The show should be showed to colleges, universitites that study law and politics… Superb – thank you…
– Anonymous audience comments
Devised by the company
Director/Designer: Paul Burgess
Choreographer: Cécile Feza Bushidi, with additional material by Jennifer Muteteli and other members of the company.
Composer: Matthew Lee Knowles
Production Manager (2011/12): Daniel Palmer
Stage Manager: Harriet Stewart
Lighting Designer: Katharine Williams
Producer (2011/12): Jethro Compton
Assistant Producer: Vera Erenbourg
PR (2011/12) by Susie Safavi
Previous cast members:
Previous team members:
Lily Babirya, Peter Barnett, Gordon Clarke, Jason Meininger, Danyal Shafiq
Developed at Camden People’s Theatre