Vivid  memory behind child soldier drama

When he was eight living in Uganda, John Rwoth-Omack narrowly avoided being kidnapped by guerrilla rebels recruiting child soldiers.

Tuesday, 21st May 2019, 13:37 pm
John Rworth-Omack in rehearsals for Far Gone, Theatre Delicatessen

He has now used the experience as the inspiration for a play, Far Gone, receiving its world premiere at Theatre Deli next week.

It is the story of Okumu, an innocent boy living with a good family in Northern Uganda, whose village is attacked by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. He and his brother are captured and their lives are changed forever. 

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, in Uganda

Rwoth-Omack’s own story has turned out very differently. He and his family moved to Sheffield a few years later and he went on  to train as an actor at Rose Bruford College in London. He has now moved back to Sheffield where he has worked as a producer for Utopia Theatre based at the Crucible  and SoAfrica Festival.  That experience of the near kidnap lay dormant in his memory for a long time. “Actually it happened three times but I was too young to remember the first two,” he says. “My brother said they came into our house and we just ran and hid. They came in for food and everything and then left. My brother only told me this a few weeks ago when we were talking about the play. He said you must remember but I was only about three or four. 

“Then it happened when I was eight and I do remember. They actually didn’t come to our villages, they stopped a few villages before mine but we heard gunfire before they called it a night. Then in 2012 I am in London in  my first year in drama school and I hear about the Kony 2012 movement and realise it was the same people. 

“And then this American charity, The Invisible Children, comes up with this campaign and I thought this is strange. The Lord’s Resistance Army has existed for more than 20 years , why are the Americans so interested in this? I do a bit of research and find that oil was discovered in Uganda in 2009. To me it is no coincidence.” Far Gone delves in to the murky depths of how historically political and religious decisions made by western powers have contributed to civil wars in Africa, in turn underpinning the existence of child soldiers of today.  

Joseph Kony, self-appointed ‘messiah’ of the Lord’s Resistance Army, took over what was then called  The Holy Spirit movement – a militaristic and spiritual rebel movement seeking to free the north of Uganda from government oppression. 

John Rworth-Omack

But by  instructing his followers to abduct, threaten, destroy, and murder in the name of his his spiritual powers the LRA became oppressors  themselves

Far Gone is a one-man show with four principal characters played by Rworth-Omack.

As movement director Akeim Toussaint points out: “It calls on John to dig deep into his skills  as a actor. It’s not just his voice but the physicality. He’s constantly in this motion which is so captivating to watch. 

As well; as  movement,it is told through poetry and traditional African oral storytelling, fused with the sounds and harmonies of Ugandan music.

“It could have been a monologue but to me that would have been boring,” concludes the writer-performer. “There are three things that theatre has to do. First and foremost  it has to educate, secondly it has to be truthful to what reality is in whatever medium that is and thirdly it has to be flippin’ entertaining. I don’t care if it is the saddest story I have ever heard, make it entertaining.”

Far Gone runs at Theatre Deli, Eyre Street, from Wednesday to Saturday, May 29, to June 1, 7.45pm