Vault Festival preview: Far Gone

Update 20.40 16 March – the Vault final week has been cancelled due to the COVID-9 pandemic. However please read on as this sounds a fab show which will return!

Welcome to another preview from this year’s Vault Festival.

Far Gone plays from 17-22 Mar in the Cage, and is written and performed by John Rwothomack, directed by Moji Elufowoju.

I asked John to tell me a bit more about Far Gone.

John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.
John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.

The plight of child soldiers seems to constantly be in the news. What does Far Gone bring to the debate?

JR: Far Gone takes us on a journey which begins with a little boy being captured, forced to commit atrocities against his will and eventually is trained into a killing machine.

At the core of the narrative is, however, a family story. In writing it I really wanted to focus on the wider context of how the existence of child soldiers doesn’t just affect the individual child but a whole community; yes, there’s is the individual story but it is important to look at how and what scars these experiences leave.

In the African context, the individual, family and community are one. Far Gone asks, what happens to a child’s identity when they are stripped of family and community and in turn what happens to the community when a child is taken and forever changed into some unrecognisable?

Far Gone challenges the audiences personal perspective, asking them to imagine themselves in the shoes of these characters, we make them implicit in the controlling the narrative of the story. 

Was it important to work humour into the serious topic behind Far Gone, and was the intention right from the start?

JR: Without humour a play tackling such heart wrenching and disturbing issues becomes simply oppressive and in this case, humour propels the tragic moments and makes them far more powerful.

Humour is not just for laughter but it also tells us a lot about the people and culture we are talking about in the play. I was very aware of this from the early stages of creating the play and tried to keep the humour peppered throughout. It’s something director Moji Elufowoju welcomed and was very happy to bring out more. 

The African style of storytelling we use heavily involves the audience, it’s not necessarily humour, but a light hearted and engaging way of getting the audience to jump on board without feeling forced.  

As a writer/performer creating a one-person show, are there particular challenges or advantages of just being one man out on the stage?

JR: I’d say the biggest challenge is having the responsibility to carry the play; to understand that when on stage, I not only to perform the show but I also represent the full creative team’s work.

I have never looked at this as a one-man show, it is a collaboration between fourteen people, I just happen to be the one with the privilege of presenting it. I must therefore make sure I am physically, mentally and emotionally in the best possible condition to do so. 

Being the only person on stage is absolutely beautiful, you have the control of the whole narrative, I decide where to take audiences, how to make them feel, but the challenge of course is getting them on board in the first place. 

Being the writer and actor was a challenge especially during rehearsals but at the same time had its advantages. The writer had to be disciplined enough to trust the director and dramaturge, in a way I needed to shut the writer out of the rehearsal room and only bring him back when he was absolutely needed.

The actor’s challenge here was to ignore the writer and just take direction from the director, but also have the timing in skill to challenge other creatives in the room. 

John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.
John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.

The Vaults is quite a unique venue for performance. Why did the Cage appeal as a space to stage your work?

JR: We are so excited to be bringing the show in London and the Cage at Vault Festival is the perfect place to be premiering it in the big city. The Vault is such a brilliant festival that attracts high profile theatres makers and reviewers.

The success of Far Gone has so far only been received and seen by Sheffield and the wonderful audience in Uganda, but not yet seen by the London theatre scene.

Like all of Vault’s stages, the Cage has its own distinct character and I was instantly attracted to it when I saw the way other productions had used it.

Director Moji Elujowofu decided to have the play in an in the round setting, so practically speaking, The Cage being in the thrust lends itself to our setting the most. It is also an intimate space which is vital to the engagement of audience. 

The situation in Northern Uganda is perhaps not as well-known as other conflicts. What do you hope an audience will learn from seeing Far Gone?

JR: Far Gone been very well received both in UK and Uganda where it is set. In Uganda of course the existence of the LRA is well known. In the UK, a light was wrongfully shed on it in 2012 with the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children, a campaign that eligibly was aimed to capture rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Behind this campaign was a clear agenda that solemnly aimed to benefit Invisible Children. I was lucky enough to meet some of ex LRA whose stories were used in the campaign, they were very quick to express how they were being strongarmed to change their actual stories to fit the narrative of Invisible Children’s campaign.

From seeing Far Gone, I hope the audience will experience in the smallest way the life and struggle these unfortunate children were forced to live. From the feedback we got from the Ugandan audience and ex LRA soldiers, it is fair to say we have done a great job capturing the world. 

In my view it is imperative for certain narratives to be put forward by people that have a connection to the voices being represented. I myself nearly being kidnapped by the LRA when I was eight and being from an area that was heavily affected them, I am in the right position to bring these experiences to life.

It is, however, not about me, the aim is that the western audience is walked through the foot steps of these children. The child soldier phenomenal is not a Uganda problem, but a world one, a human one. At the minimum, Far Gone opens a conversation about it. 

We are also raising money for The Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN), a charity founded by Evelyn Amony, who herself was abducted of the LRA. The charity aims to seek reintegration, reconciliation, and justice for war-affected women and men.

John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.
John Rwothomack in Far Gone. Image by Smart Banda.

My thanks to John, and to Matthew Parker for facilitating this interview.

Far Gone is at the Vault Festival 17-22 March.