Clothes hang in broken rows above the bare stage (Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s design). Dresses, suits, uniforms – they are presences that suggest absences, the “ghosts” of the people in the stories that Tonderai Munyevu and Millie Chapanda are bringing to life through words and music.
The text of Mugabe, My Dad & Me, written by Munyevu, is an assemblage of the events that have shaped his complicated identity as a “gay, black Zimbabwean man”. The narrative is set in motion by a white man’s question: “Where are you from?” Never shrinking from confronting the (overwhelmingly white) audience with the lazy tropes of the colonial mindset, Munyevu sets before us intersecting histories, both personal and political, “bouncing, non-linear” between Zimbabwe and the UK, past and present.
Now accompanying, now counterpointing Munyevu’s storytelling, Chapanda plays the mbira, a set of metal tines fixed to a wooden board and plucked by the fingers. This, she tells us, is an instrument of the sacred and the social, of celebration and of healing, creating a shared link between our world and that of the ancestors. Placed inside a hollowed-out pumpkin hull to amplify the sound, the mbira resonates dissonant harmonies throughout the auditorium. The enveloping sound brings an extra dimension to the performance, one that integrates the diverse elements of the narrative with our own here and now.
Munyevu’s delivery style, as directed by John R Wilkinson, is relaxed and humorous. He talks directly to the audience, taking us into his confidence: “Be kind – my impressions are dodgy!” (They aren’t.) His script, by contrast, is tightly constructed. Like the mbira, it sets off resonances to effect: between the complex personalities of Munyevu’s father and Mugabe, for instance; between his own land inheritance and land redistribution issues resulting from Britain’s betrayal of promises made to Zimbabwe. His story and history are mutually enlightening. Co-produced with English Touring Theatre, the show tours next year – catch it if you can.
• Mugabe, My Dad & Me will be touring next year; dates to be announced