The Lowry, Quays theatre is housing a journey into Europe, taking audiences across an impenetrable forest and into the heart of darkness. Imitating the dog’s new adaption voyages back in time to Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella and centres around one man’s search for an ivory trader named Mr Kurtz’s. Narrated by Charles Marlow, and inspired by Conrad’s own experiences in the Congo, Marlow’s tale to the dark continent plays a journey out of the eyes of civilisation, that shakes his beliefs and values. As Marlow finds his trip deliberately sabotaged as a way to protect the reputation of the teams powerful but increasingly unhinged and corrupted leader Mr Kurtz’s, hidden evils are also revealed.
While Conrad’s original narrative highlights the control and exploitation within the Congo, the novels foundation obscures the stripped identities of the black bodies within its narrative. Marlow’s place within a corporation named The Company show the natives in need of guidance and control as they serve as slaves for the corporation’s pillaging. The hypocritical and barbaric acts of its western characters shine a light on the changes that take place within their own minds when they continue to go unchecked, and their increasingly unsound methods are carried out in the pursuit of profit.
Over a century after its original release, Conrad’s ambiguous novel continues to leave a controversial tinge with its readers, and its important themes are mixed with abhorrent representations that co-writers and directors, Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks push to update. Through the use of a greenscreen that allows doctored footage to be presented live above the cast on stage, the production questions the polarising views of its narrative by deconstructing the story in layers.
The show aims to focus on our current, broken landscape and destructive thirst for power by reworking the narrative around capitalism with themes of gender and race brought to the forefront by its small cast of five actors. With the mythical Kurtz’s (played by Matt Prendergast) described in the novel as “taking a high seat upon the devils of the land”, imitating the dog’s narrative recasts Conrad as a black woman (played by Keicha Greenidge) who takes the role of a private detective.
Modernising the narrative by travelling into the heart of Europe, the show brings three levels of overlapping accounts. Questioning the desire to retell Heart of Darkness the show mixes documentary footage from director Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and critique from the author, Chinua Achebe's explaining how the lack of humanity given to its black characters makes Conrad’s novella an insulting triumph. Interweaving modern troubles, the productions cast often break from acting out the story to study the text and explore how they will tell the piece on stage. In a scene dissecting the narrative around Europe and Brexit, the cast stop to sing The Land of Hope and Glory over clips of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher.
While the production offers an impressive multi-layered reimagining of Conrad’s classic, it’s second half falls back into telling audiences the original story. Its overdone monologue by Kurtz’s is left to finish the piece, but audience members who have not read Conrad’s original novella may find the show challenging to follow. Similarly, audiences familiar with the story may want to hear more of the factual atrocities surrounding the original tale that are hinted upon from the first act. However, stretching to rework, uncover and explain the narrative, imitating the dog bring an ambitious retelling of Conrad’s classic with a message that is far from ambiguous. Its cinematic approach brings the few characters involved, up close and personal to its audience in its effective revival.