Idi Amin Dada ruled as President of Uganda between 1971 and 1979, coming to power on a wave of optimism. He was initially welcomed by many Ugandans as a symbol of hope for the country’s future, however his presidency quickly spiralled into a terrifying reign of corruption and frenzied violence.
The Last King of Scotland charts Idi Amin’s time in power, adding into the narrative the fictional character of Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish doctor who becomes the President’s physician. Originally a novel by Giles Foden, then a 2006 film starring Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy, and now a play adapted by writer Steve Waters, The Last King of Scotland marks the third production this year to premiere on the Crucible’s stage.
The performance is anchored by Tobi Bamtefa as Idi Amin and Daniel Portman as his physician, Nicholas Garrigan. Bamtefa’s Idi Amin is larger-than-life on all fronts - he’s booming, gregarious and often comic, then chilling in his thirst for power and violence. Bamtefa depicts both the magnetism and the inherent danger of a leader with this big of an ego. Daniel Portman delivers a passionate performance as Nicholas Garrigan, who begins as a seemingly naïve helper to the leader, but quickly finds himself slipping further and further into the regime, eventually becoming complicit in its brutality. Alongside the two main characters come quietly confident performances from Akuc Bol as one of the President’s wives Kay Amin and John Omole as doctor Peter Mbalu-Mukasa, with the pair secretly in love and due to have a child. It is their desperate plea for Nicholas Garrigan’s help that brings the real danger of Idi Amin to Garrigan’s own door for the first time. Support is also lent to the cast by members of the Sheffield People’s Theatre, who add welcome life and vibrancy.
The Last King of Scotland combines fictional elements with historical facts and explores Amin’s absurdity and his brutality. It’s a complex mix that at times, the play struggles to balance. Nevertheless, this remains an interesting and engaging consideration of one of Africa’s most infamous dictators and his reign.
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