Malindadzimu: Hampstead Theatre
- Credit: Robert Day
The presence of the grave of mining imperialist Cecil Rhodes in the sacred Zimbabwean Matobo Hills is the unsettling premise of Mufaro Makubika’s strikingly spiritual play about the legacy of colonial oppression.
Malindadzimua is a world heritage site which also contains the burial grounds of King Lobengula, the founder of the Southern African Matabele kingdom, and it's partly a cry for the need to re appropriate key landmarks.
But despite the weighty historical subject, the plot is accessible and pleasingly contemporary: teenage Hope [Kudzai Mangombe] is found unconscious at her Midlands comprehensive but hospital tests reveal she hasn’t, as feared, taken an overdose of anti- depressants.
Nevertheless, her devoted single mother Faith [Shyko Amos] has only to hear mention of Hope’s recent hallucination of a mysterious, scantily clad male, or catch her talking of an aching emotional absence, and she whisks them off to their erstwhile homeland, a farm she’s bought in Matobo [a plot development that stretches credibility, but the direction makes convincing].
The two women get back to basics on a beautifully spare set designed by Zoe Hurwitz that conjures the expanse of the landscape with minimalist panels and painterly projections. They bond as they pound peanut butter in a Duri, or drink potent beer made by Gogo [Natasha Williams], an older employee who comes with the farm and who is a wondrous gift of a character, her truculence and wisdom providing many of the play’s best moments.
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Performances are strong and Williams is spot-on, spit-and-sawdust alive. This is Makubika’s second play following his critically acclaimed Shebeen which won him the 2017 Alfred Fagon Award. It’s immediately clear why he’s one to watch, his talent for observing human subtleties is evident in the heartfelt mother and daughter dialogue.
Makubika captures the nuances of their co-dependent dynamic with impressive precision. While the leavening of naturalism with the supernatural doesn’t always work, despite a rivetingly high voltage ululating exorcism scene directed with panache by Monique Touko.
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But the significance of cultural loss and how the ripple effects are felt down the generations is a timely and powerful message. 3/5 stars.