Mugabe, My Dad and Me

Photo by Jane Hobson

Mugabe, My Dad and Me by Tonderai Munyevi – Brixton House, London

Tonderai Munyevi is a charming performer. His one man show, which opens the new Brixton House Theatre – home of the relocated Oval House Theatre, and the first in Brixton for a very long time – is a spirited combination of personal and global histories. The two are hard to separate when, as Munyevi was, you are brought up in Zimbabwe and relocate to London to make your life. His experiences include different types of marginalisation, growing up as a gay man and a Zimbabwean immigrant in London. His family story is messy, but the show moving unearths the trauma that led to his father alcoholism, the root of his problems. This is inextricably linked with the fight for independence that led to the end of the apartheid Iain Smith regime in 1981, and the rise of Robert Mugabe as the new leader bringing hope to an oppressed nation. Of course, the Mugabe era did not turn out as anyone hoped, and part of Munyevi’s stated aim is to explain how, far from being a standalone despot, Mugabe was the product of a desperate colonial past.

He succeeds in this only to some extent. As a history lesson, ‘Mugabe, My Father and I’ is sometimes frustratingly lacking. The land disputes that blew up in the 1990s, leading to Mugabe’s transformation into a pariah, are the theme that underlies the show, but are never fully explained. Those without background knowledge may be a little baffled. It is also strange that no reference is made to Mugabe’s infamous homophobia, despite Munyevi’s sexuality being a theme throughout. However, the show is engagingly performed and very well staged. John R. Wilkinson’s direction fills the relatively large Brixton House stage with the help of Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s set of outfits, from military uniforms to Spice Girl dresses, suspended over the performers. Although it is a one-man show, there is also a woman – Mille Chapanda, who plays the Mbira, a haunting Zimbabwean instrument, as well as occasional characters in the show. The Mbira is the name for both the instrument and the story it tells in in music, a different tale for each one of us. This is Tonderai’s tale, and a strong way to open an exciting new theatre space.

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