Jane Bussmann: Bussman\'s Holiday

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Wow. What a hard-hitting topic for comedy ­ the child
kidnap, torture and murder of the brutal guerrilla war in Uganda
- and what a deft lightness of touch in covering it.

Key to its success is the gap between the seriousness of what
Jane Bussmann finds herself talking about now and her former
occupation, as a writer of gushing sycophantic celebrity features
from Hollywood, where she daren't says anything even remotely
disparaging for fear of upsetting the powerful publicists controlling
access to the A-list.

It would be nice to say that she realised the shallowness
of her vacuous career and went to Uganda out of pure redemptive
altruism. But it's more to do with two facts: (a) she accidentally
burnt her bridges with a contentious article about airhead Ashton
Kutcher, and (b) she fancied John Prendergast, the American charged
with brining an end to the slaughter, and would literally travel
to the end of the world for a date with him.

Bussmann is endearingly self-deprecating about both her motives
and her ill-preparedness for travelling as a foreign correspondent
to a savage war zone, which is where many of the laughs come

But war, and the heightened reality and bizarre extremes of
behaviour it brings out, have long been a fertile ground for
jet-black comedy, from Catch-22 to MASH, and Bussmann follows
in that fine tradition.

This is a compelling storytelling show about her extraordinary
encounters with the warmongers, the peacemakers, the sinister
spies and the average Ugandans caught up in this horror. Along
the way she uncovers several shocking truths about the conflict,
including the military commander bombing children with the tacit
approval of the US, in the fight against the rebels ­ and
the financial incentives among these thugs to keep the war going,
as charities keep filling expensive hotels (the only safe havens)
with their staff, which only ends up lining all the wrong pockets.
But making such discoveries are hardly conducive to her own personal
safety in this lawless land.

It's an amazing tale, expertly, openly told and rich with
well-written jokes ­ Bussmann's journalism background is
clearly put to some good use ­ as well as the naturally surreal
anecdotes that such an adventure throws up. The horror of the
subject matter does sometimes engulf the comedy - it can be hard
to laugh when your mind's on rape, mutilation and death ­
but it's such an important story you forgive the jarring juxtaposition.

In fact, one of the few problems with this engrossing show
is that Bussmann can't possibly get everything in. Her genuine
feelings about the terrifying predicaments she finds herself
in are skipped over, and there seem to be gaps in the tale you
want filling in. The book that must inevitably follow should
make for a cracking read, as well as highlighting an important,
but much-overlooked, news story.

Let's hope she never has to interview Ashton Kutcher again.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Aug 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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