If you are uncomfortable in your own worldly position, or unsure of your place, then you may find comfort in watching a glimpse of another you fight the same uncertainty in Joakim Daun’s The Incident. The Swedish playwright has succeeded in creating a reflective and multifaceted two man play. It contains a slightly awkward cast, David Weiss who plays Jan Larsson, the patriarchal and pathetic white Swedish male figure, is somewhat left behind by Cassandra Hercules’ portrayal of Jan’s strong yet struggling Zimbabwean paramour, Monica Moyo. The 60-minutes, directed by Tonderi Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier, explores the issue of race in Sweden, though it is arguably contemplative of a prejudice held through the world. Monica experiences an untrue accusation which breaks apart her interracial relationship as her struggle exposes a distinct lack of support in her previously adoring partner.
An awkwardly dancing Weiss comes alive as Jan attempts to impress Monica upon their first meeting in Zimbabwe. However, this is the only point in which his comedic attempts take hold. He otherwise is unable to maintain the same ease with which Hercules graces the stage and captivates the audience with her emotive, and obvious, connection to the character. However, Weiss’ commitment to the play must be acknowledged. This is his third run after The Incident’s debut in Zimbabwe and journey to South Africa. Perhaps his imperfect performance is exemplary of an inability to transform Jan’s persona for the amusement of a British audience rather than demonstrating an insufficiency in his own acting ability.
We see Jan yell, with convincing force, in the face of uncertainty, namely Monica’s, to then curl into a foetal position and deal an uncomfortable and pitiful outpour of emotion. He also gaslights her, calling her belief in an act of racial prejudice to be paranoid, while simultaneously taking hold of her narrative. Although Monica’s alleged teacher-student violence is the ‘incident’ from the title, it remains clear that this symbolises a significant structural and societal inequality. The incident is emblematic for an expression of prejudice which spans generations and centuries and cannot be boiled down to one racist accusation of physical abuse. Daun responds to this dialogue with respect and candour.
There is a distinct presence of what Monica, the key figure and a seeming symbol for the black community in Sweden (a position for which she herself expresses her dislike), refers to as “white melancholia”. Perhaps this is more aptly described as white ignorance where people are mourning the loss of good old Sweden. This remains a prevalent aspect of the play; it clutches onto a reluctance to let go of old belief systems, reflecting a certain moral high ground that enables Sweden to portray itself as an entity of peace. At the end of the play the audience are directed to a screen where the re-enactment of an old Swedish politician declares that the Swedish system shall no longer recognise race, all in the name of propelling the country into an age of equality. Some may argue this very act has pulled them backwards, creating a deeper and more concrete impression of ignorance. The last-minute inclusion of a third party releases the play to the outside world, becoming all the more uncomfortably real.
Monica leaves the audience with the question “Can we really talk about this?” I do not believe a white male playwright has the authority to answer and I therefore praise Daun for leaving this platform open. However, whether he should be able to create and mould such a powerful black, female voice is also up for debate.
Are we able to absorb Monica’s lack of belonging and find some reflection within our own lives? And if not, could we find ourselves to be part of the problem from which this experience of otherness, and consequent persecution, stems?
The Incident is playing Canada Water Theatre until 19 October. For further information and tickets, please click here.