The Observer is a powerful and thought-provoking take on what could happen when the West get involved in Third World democracy. Set in a fictitious, Igbo-speaking, former colony in West Africa the International Election Observation Team (or IEO) has taken residence to ensure that the country’s first democratic election takes place freely and fairly.

Fiona, played brilliantly by Anna Chancellor, is the deputy chief of the team and has been working for the organisation for over ten years. But when she begins to get a little too close to her translator Daniel, played by Chuk Iwuji, her usual impassionate resilience begins to break down. Her then subsequent involvement in the registration of new voters is seen from two angles; is she really trying to help everyone entitled to vote get the change to, or is she using her authority to put in place a leader she feels the country needs.

The Observer is written excellently and playwright Matt Charman has used a multitude of characters which all add to the script’s depth and overall effect. The play really does make you think about the reasons why people like Fiona do the job they do and whether or not having the best of intentions can ultimately do more harm than good. Further to that it raises the issue of ‘foreigners’ getting involved in African and other Third World Countries and how much can an outsider really know about the world they are entering.

The play also uses a mix of live action and recorded images which work really well and designer Rob Howell has used an ingenious roman blind set to move between the play’s many locations.

The cast all do remarkably jobs, in particular Anna Chancellor as she portrays the struggles of Fiona well and at the end of the play we are not sure if she is fully aware of the damage she may have caused.

While the play does take some concentration and the serious, political theme won’t be to everybody’s likening, The Observer is an accomplished and challenging play. Especially for those who have had their political eye’s opened since the election of President Barak Obama.

The Observer is playing in rep at The National Theatre until 8th July 2009. To book tickets or for more information please see

The Observer by Matt Charman
Directed by Richard Eyre

Cast Includes: Anna Chancellor, Cyril Nri, James Fleet and Daon Broni

Reviewed By Karla Williams