Theatre review: The Last King of Scotland

By Adele Forrest | 03/10/2019

Theatre review: The Last King of Scotland

THE true story of former Ugandan leader Idi Amin Dada’s brutal eight-year reign completes Sheffield Theatres’ trilogy of world premieres this year.

The Last King of Scotland is based on the novel by Giles Foden, which successfully made its way onto the big screen and earned Forest Whitaker an Oscar. 

Amin’s real-life horrors of the 1970s are played against the fictional character of his naive newly-qualified Scottish physician Nicholas Garrigan (Daniel Portman).

Garrigan finds himself wrapped up in the president’s close circle after leaving his homeland in search of adventure. 

The story is told in flashback after a dishevelled Garrigan arrives back to the UK and is grilled by officials over why he took up Ugandan citizenship.
 
The Crucible stage is then transformed from a single spotlight to a burst of noise and colour as Ugandans celebrate Amin’s appointment. 
 
Initially, Amin (Tobi Bamtefa) presents himself as a man of the people, a hero soldier who has come from nothing.  

Bamtefa's reassuring huge presence, jovial nature and mega-watt smile lures everyone into a false sense of security, with extra star quality added as he walks through the Crucible crowd shaking theatregoers’ hands and charming the ladies — a nice touch. 

The Ambassador’s ball scene featuring diplomats and both of Amin’s wives is well choreographed with excellent support from the Sheffield People’s Theatre.  

But an eerie uncomfortable air soon descends on the celebrations as the president singles out Asian businesswoman Priti (Hussina Raja) after he declares expulsion on the country's Asian population. 

This powerful early scene is Bamtefa’s only real chance to directly portray the president’s psychopathic nature — the rest is delivered through hearsay.  

The brutal sense of a man known as the “Butcher of Uganda” never really comes through — a scene where he unveils his wife’s decapitated head is flat and clumsy.

Before her character’s murder, Akuc Bol as Kay Amin gives a standout performance as the tortured wife who begs Garrigan for help after she falls pregnant to another man. 

The ruler’s relationship with the media is peppered throughout as he takes press conferences in a boxing ring or dressed as an astronaut, often portraying himself as the eccentric buffoon — which we all know is the most dangerous type of leader, right? 

Director Gbolahan Obisesan chooses to focus on the question of complicity, asking the audience: By Garrigan doing his job and making the president fit and well, is he assisting in his brutal regime?  

Much is made of the relationship between the president and his aide but overall the show lacks intensity and fear.

The Last King of Scotland is at the Sheffield Crucible until October 19