Tonderai Munyevu’s “mugabe, my dad & me” shines a light on the history of Zimbabwe and its most famous leader, Robert Mugabe, through the lens of his personal and family history. The stage is dressed with hanging sets of clothes which suggest that this is a story about many people not just one man. And indeed it is. It travels far and wide to explore identity, racism and colonialism. Inevitably this involves some uncomfortable and disturbing scenes. But Munyevu speaks with confidence and honesty. And some sharp flashes of humour.
He addresses the audience directly as a black, gay man living in London but telling the story of his native Zimbabwe. The story kicks off with the question “where are you from” put to him by a white man. The enormity and implications of this question set the scene for the rest of the play. Munyevu uses it as a launch pad to confront colonialism as a world view and as a tragic injustice visited upon African people. He is in turn angry, resigned and amused in this intensely personal narrative.
The rise and fall of Robert Mugabe is a means to hold the piece together. As a fighter against apartheid, the leader of Zimbabwe, and a divisive force on the world stage, his story is also the history of how colonialism corrupted and destroyed a country. There are some useful lessons in the text about how the British government played a duplicitous hand, and how land reform became the issue which symbolised the difference between western notions of individual property rights and African notions of community custodianship, and which ultimately brought Mugabe down.
The play’s strength lies in Munyevu’s ability to tell a complicated story in a compelling way. But he does not oversimplify. Rather he invites the audience to reflect upon the many factors at play in Zimbabwe’s traumatic history. He jumps from the personal to the political, from the past to the present, from Zimbabwe to London, but he always manages to bring the audience with him.
Alongside Munyevu, Millicent Chapanda, sings and plays the mbira – a traditional Zimbabwean instrument – which adds extra depth to the play. It reminds the audience of a culture that was stifled by colonial oppression and western values and practices.
For one person to hold your attention for 85 minutes is a real challenge. But Munyevu rises to it. He quickly develops a very intimate relationship with the audience and his charming presence draws you in, gets you to listen and makes you think. Go and see him if you can.
It runs in Brixton House Theatre, Coldharbour Lane until 1 April.
Tickets: £21, £17 concessions
Recommended age: 12+
Duration: 85 minutes
For further information go to www.brixtonhouse.co.uk