But his government of the newly independent country lasted a mere 12 weeks in 1960 before he was deposed in a coup and subsequently executed just a few months later at the age of 35.
Film director Joe Wright’s richly staged production of Aimé Césaire’s 1966 drama (the second in a trilogy concerning decolonization) transforms the auditorium into a vibrant Leopoldville as it follows Lumumba’s career from travelling beer salesman in 1955 to his final moments when the United Nations failed to step in to save him.
The narrative is fragmentary and at times there’s almost too much going on with a host of different styles in evidence – from an old likembe player (Kabongo Tshisensa) whose sayings are amusingly interpreted for an English audience, to huge-headed puppets and to the big pink nose-shaped masks sported by the all black cast to portray the Belgian colonials, and from the strummed guitar of Kaspy N’Dia to the vibrant movement choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui who morphs a pulsating dance into a bloodbath.
But it’s all held together by a charismatic central performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, returning to the stage to imbue Lumumba with both the charisma necessary to carry a nation and the naivety which could not prevent the civil war which followed.
Young Vic, The Cut, SE1 8LZ
Tube | Southwark / Waterloo
Extended to 24th August
£10.00 – £32.50
Photos by Johan Persson