‘Stories breed stories’ actor Tonderai Munyevu tells the audience as he draws his one-man production towards its close. For the past 90 minutes Munyevu has taken us on a journey, from Soho to Harare, Zimbabwe, where he confronts the presence of the men who’s shaped his life, one of whom who shaped a nation; his father and the Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe.
Munyevu takes to the stage, as though he were a stand-up comic, settling us all in for a night of one liners, merely scraping the surface of his internal motions when a punter in the local he was working at in London asked him where he was from, before spouting their opinions about Zimbabwe, the so-called ‘breadbasket of Africa’. This infuriating exchange forms the basis of Munyenvu’s meanderings through memory and history, it’s a Russian doll through which the entire narrative is framed and an event that demonstrates the unpredictable journey of growth and development.
Munyevu is joined on stage by a Gwenyambira, a female Mbira player. Tonight’s performer is Millicent Chapanda who colours Munyevu’s journey with the comforting sound of the Mbira, an instrument played at family gatherings and said to give men, ‘power’. On one hand, Chapanda sits passively throughout the drama, gently playing the Mbira and other percussive instruments, silently taking the role of Munenvu’s mother and aunt, though this is delightfully never made clear. Against a backdrop of designer Nicolai Hart’s body-less hanging clothes, she sits silently, interjecting only to explain the significance of her traditional instrument, and accentuating the drama with her exquisite singing. On the other hand, Chapanda is the anchor to the entire performance. Through her musical performances of Zimbabwe transcends Menyveu’s verbal description and becomes a sensation the audience can sense and feel too. It’s an absolutely beautiful narrative device.
The narrative layerings of Munyveu’s story are rich and deep, opening up cavernous unanswered questions, and layering symbolms against metaphors. Munyevu doesn’t come to any real conclusions, nor does he come to any assertive conclusion about the allegories he implies, but this ambivalent approach mirrors Munyevu’s assertion that from one tale only grows more. We’re told of his father’s fantastic glasses, of his father’ hardworking ethic of the early days, of his violent outbursts that forced him to leave the country. Munyevu pits Blair against Mugabe, delivering both of their acerbic speeches during the period of tumultuous political relations and reflecting on the issues of land ownership. As he takes us to the graveside of his father in Zimbabwe, the ghost of Mugabe grows out hanging clothes. In the midst of this unclear identity is Mugabe, a man who simultaneously adored many British dalliances including cricket and tailored British suits and simultaneously perpetuated what many felt was ‘white-racism’. And a man who shared perhaps, some traits of his father. This intelligently ambivalent open-ended allegory leaves us to stew in the human brain’s constant desire to seek out patterns of familiarity.
Mugabe, My Dad and Me is a celebration of the unanswerable aspects of identity as Munyevu invites the audiences to listen to him and dwell on the grey areas of his identity. It’s brilliant night of theatre and an honour to be in the company of someone who share their reaction to growing up this significant chapter of world history while looking forwards and backwards. This sensitive performance is not only a beautiful piece of cathartic relief, but a brilliantly well-crafted theatre.
This production runs at the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh until Saturday 26th March 2022 https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/mugabe-my-dad-me
Reviewer: Melissa Jones
Reviewed: 23rd March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★