Nhamo gently pokes fun at Africa’s love for myths

tricycle show

tricycle show - Credit: Archant

A tongue-in-cheek comedy at the Tricycle Theatre, begins with a narrator who has just 24 hours to create the ‘ultimate African fable’.

“He is pleading with the Gods of storytelling when suddenly a conveniently dashing goatherd appears and off we go on a rather mad, fun adventure,” says director Lucian Msamati, adding that, like all myths, any African fable has a quest, a hero, a villain, a love interest and life lessons along the way.

The Epic Adventure of Nhamo The Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo by Denton Chikura grew out of a new playwriting festival two years ago run by Msamati’s Tiata Fahodzi Theatre Company.

Early rehearsed readings were the overwhelming hit of the festival, says the artistic director.

“They went down a complete and utter storm so we thought let’s see where we can take it.”

That journey has ended at the Kilburn High Road venue where a full production runs until August 17.

“It has its tongue firmly in its cheek and is very much of our time. A celebration of storytelling and mythology whilst poking unhindered fun at it all – showbusiness and myths.”

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Mission to challenge

Tiata Fahodzi (meaning theatre of the emancipated) has the mission statement to “explore, reflect and challenge the experience of Africans in Britain” but Msamati is aiming for an “all inclusive British audience” for their shows.

“It’s the whole issue of representation. As a passionate theatre person, you want to watch a story that reflects you and looks like you. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

“Ours are very much human stories that transcend where they come from but seen from a completely different perspective.”

He is understandably irked when he hears white audience members comment: ‘I was surprised that I enjoyed it.’

“They would watch a film in Swedish or Japanese – where is the disconnect in a story about human beings? Possibly it’s from seeing someone who doesn’t necessarily look like you.”

As to whether there’s such a thing as an African style of storytelling, Zimbabwean-raised Msamati explains there’s a directness that springs from the socio-political culture.

“Sometimes with what you might call Western storytelling, it’s easy to get lost in the cosmetics of a concept, a set, lighting design, or rich subtextual language, forgetting there needs to be a story with characters that people can relate to.

“Coming from Zimbabwe, raised in a reality where we are constantly fed lies and myths dressed up as facts and law, we appreciate work that’s open-hearted, open-handed, doesn’t pull any punches and puts the actor at the centre rather than the lighting design. People love to laugh at this show because it is so honest and obvious, there’s no attempt to disguise the fact that we are here to have a good time and tell a great story. That lack of pretence can get you close to some very dark places.”

Msamati adds that there’s a unique lack of inhibition to the performances.

“Zimbabweans love to perform, they are not ashamed to enjoy it. Sometimes that open-heartedness isn’t necessarily celebrated in the mainstream.”

As for future projects, he’s juggling a successful acting career that includes Game of Thrones, No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and Clybourne Park, with the drive to get more African-British stories of all kinds to the stage.

“I say to writers – send me a play that’s set on the moon and, if one of the characters happens to have a grandmother who’s Kenyan, that’s fantastic. It’s as much about practice and practitioner and the freedom to create Chinese or white characters.”