Review: The Last King of Scotland @ The Crucible
Based on Giles Foden’s award-winning novel, the stage adaptation of The Last King of Scotland opened at the Crucible Theatre with all the swagger and bluster of the story’s main villain, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
The story begins with the arrival of Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (Daniel Portman) in Uganda, where former army commander Amin has forcefully overthrown the government of Milton Obote with a promise to put the country and its people first.
There are celebrations in the street as many Ugandans praise their bold new leader, and following a chance encounter, an initially uneasy Garrigan is also enamoured by the charisma of Amin; where in turn the president shows mutual intrigue by appointing the Scot as his personal physician. Growing ever closer to the country and the man at its helm, he is faced to deal with the morality of supporting a despot whose wickedness becomes inescapable as the play continues.
Tobi Bamtefa steals the show as Amin, comfortably switching from buffoonish bouts of bravado to periods of menacing instability between the two acts. Much is made of his differing portrayal via various media outlets, an obsession with positive reviews and a general disdain for answering difficult questions. Sound familiar?
Naturally, the relationship between Amin and Garrigan is given precedence throughout, but in doing so other characters and subplots fail to have any real impact. The doctor’s feelings for a British diplomat’s wife is given the very slightest of nods, which later results in flat farewell scene and a question of whether it was worth including at all.
That said, one emotionally-charged scene where Garrigan’s colleague Peter (a strong performance by John Amole) pleads with the doctor to carry an illegal abortion on Amin’s second wife following an ill-advised affair makes for tense viewing.
Portman is at his best towards the end of the play: his character realises what has been risked by befriending such a monster and the despair shown is compelling. However, the speed at which this strange, unexplained bond between the pair forms in the first place leaves the audience unable to sympathise with what seems at best naivety and at worst rank foolishness. Further context on a few more areas of the plot would too have been welcomed.
Overall, though, this stage production is an entertaining watch and one which hammers the wider points home well enough: issues of morality, complicity, and what can happen if powerful leaders successfully avoid accountability. Something we can all take heed of in the current political climate.