Mungo Park – Travels in the Interior of Africa, Summerhall, Fringe Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Dogstar and Mungo Park Theatre
Martin Lyngbo and Thor Bjorn Krebs (writers), Martin Lyngbo (director), Palle Steen Christen-sen
(design), Jakob Rasmussen (lighting design), Marcus Aurelius Hjelmborg (composer), Jonathan Sydenham (sound - English version)

Matthew Zajac (Mungo Park) Anders Budde Christensen, Kingsley Amadi
Running time

An invitation to experience your ‘inner cinema’ is thrown to the audience at the start of the joint Danish - Scottish show based on the exploring years in the life of 18th century Scots explorer Mungo Park.

Park led two expeditions to West Africa to chart the River Niger and investigate tales of vast gold wealth in Timbuktu where he set out to be the first European to visit. He published his journal Travels in the Interior of Africa that gives title to the show after the first trip that he car-ried out mainly alone. His second expedition included soldiers, shipwrights, seamen, local guides and slaves and turned out to be a disaster with only seven survivors including Park who eventually drowned at impassable rapids and while under attack from a local tribe.

Uncovering a lost or forgotten piece of Scottish history can only be lauded but sadly the style of this play gives no dignity to the tragic tale. When it opens with the boots of Mungo Park (Matthew Zajac) dangling from a contraption above the stage before it releases the figure of Park on to his first steps towards ‘lighting the heart of darkness’ holds the promise of a realization of something in the style of those wonderfully surreal Glen Baxter cartoons. This promise come to nothing. What is there instead is a bit of a mish mash of makeshift props that give the sense of a work in progress, rather than a finished production. At one point, 4 rows of lights nearly blinded some of the audience and the plate of brownies crumbled on Mungo Park towards the end seems a rather clumsy metaphor.

It is energetic, with action taking place on the revolving circle stage to descriptions of imagined camera action and there is much battering up and down the shoogly stacked seating steps like wee boys playing at soldiers. It’s certainly madcap but not quite surreal enough; it’s zaniness not heightened enough. Think the hilarious stage version of The 39 Steps.

The three strong cast work hard in this lengthy show as the miscellany of characters are acted out but the style strikes as a disservice to the memory of an earnest young man of his time.

6 – 27 (not 8, 15 or 22) August at 20.45 Age suitability: 10+