The last century was the time of the despots and dictators, all of them men, who between them slaughtered many millions of innocent souls.
Only a few of these murderous thugs managed to die peacefully in their own beds. One of them was Idi Amin Dada, the murderously malevolent and sadistic ruler of Uganda. He fled, when his regime crumbled, first to the waiting arms of Colonel Gaddafi. And then to a comfortable “retirement” in Saudi Arabia.
Amin was a deranged psychopath, a public figure so oversized (in every sense) that the law, both internationally and at home, could not bind him.
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Now comes Steve Waters’ stage adaptation of Giles Foden’s novel, which looks at the gruesome rule of this appalling man. In act one, Amin emerges as quite a tolerable chap, for all his ill-disguised bluster and occasional bad temper. Like a few politicians in the spotlight today, he was regarded as a sort of amiable buffoon. Lessons to be learned?
Fools can often be horribly, evilly, dangerous. From a furious and impatient young bull, he turns slowly into a mad and treacherous one. It is in act two that the pace racks up, and the two main characters skid toward a ferocious finale.
Tobi Bamtefa, as Amin, gives a performance that is terrifyingly unanchored to the real world, self-absorbed and yet cunningly all-seeing. And his doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (Daniel Portman) is the compliant and besotted person on the other end of the seesaw.
There’s plenty of insight into what brought these two strange individuals together, and also what pulled them apart. At basics, it’s a thought-provoking mix of social and racial commentary, with a few clues into what made Amin such a hideous and murderous tyrant. This is a timely piece of hugely absorbing theatre.
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Have we learned any lessons, ask Foden and Waters? They answer emphatically. No. Not one.
Overall: 4 / 5
The Last King of Scotland is at the Crucible Theatre until October 19.