Parts of the narrative in Malindadzimu is entirely predictable – particularly when Hope (Kudzai Mangombe) is taken by her mother Faith (Shyko Amos) to Zimbabwe. Having called Nottingham her home previously, this is, it becomes apparent, not so much a holiday as a permanent move.
Unsurprisingly, given that Hope didn’t exactly consent to this arrangement, there’s some pushback, leaving Gogo (Natasha Williams), the caretaker of the property Faith has taken over – or, as the play text rather tersely puts it, “an old woman”, utterly aghast at what she sees as sheer disrespect by a child towards her elders (and therefore her betters). Later, there are (again, predictably) signs that the daughter is assimilating into society at large with greater speed and agility than the mother.
Cultural differences elicit some mild humour. For Faith and Hope (there’s nobody called Love in the dramatis personae, make of that what you will), moving to a rural environment has its challenges, and in exchange for Gogo teaching Hope how peanut butter is made, Hope teaches Gogo how Instagram posts are made. That may or may not have been a fair trade, but it is one that both parties agreed to. Faith’s plan is to make a living by managing farmland, but for reasons explained in the play, the chances of breaking even this season are very slim. Cue more differences as the reasons given by the locals don’t neatly fit into Faith’s way of thinking, in which unexplained occurrences must be scientifically investigated in order to clarify what has happened, rather than be put down to a curse or other spiritual or supernatural phenomena.
The set (Zoë Hurwitz) transforms suitably from hospital ward to front room to a spirit medium’s (Tendai Humphrey Sitima) consultation room. A recurring theme of ancestry in the dialogue would resonate somewhat with Western audiences, given the popularity of genealogy websites, though there’s more of an old school approach taken here, with stories still literally passed down, conversationally, from generation to generation. Lobengula (Sifiso Mazibuko), of a previous generation, demands that Hope does something she doesn’t know how to do, with dire consequences if his orders aren’t carried out. I wondered at one point if I was watching an adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera (in which the title character also indulges in instructions and threats).
The closing scene is, frankly, almost as melodramatic as that other show, with a conclusion about as neat and tidy as a musical theatre happy ending. This doesn’t, of course, in itself diminish the plausibility of the storyline, and the production does well to discuss, without being preachy, how the past influences the present and the future. If the medium’s request for immediate payment for his services in US dollars seems mercenary (and I’m not saying it isn’t), it’s not a patch on the manipulative tactics engaged by some Christian evangelicals elsewhere. Anyway, there are some strong and charming performances from this engaging cast, and some of the characters can be as terrifying as they are supportive.
Review by Chris Omaweng
For Faith and her teenage daughter Hope, it seems as though growing up inevitably means growing apart. So Faith makes the drastic decision to move the family back to her native Zimbabwe to start over. It’s home for her but not for Hope – at least, not on the surface… Will the powers that have drawn them back to their roots help them find each other – and themselves?
Mufaro Makubika’s new play – delicate, witty and epic in equal measure – travels from Nottingham to Zimbabwe to explore a mother and daughter’s search for belonging, their struggle with a multicultural heritage, and a haunting history that cannot be ignored.
The cast includes Shyko Amos (An Octoroon, Soho Rep New York), Sifiso Mazibuko (Hamilton, West End), Tendai Humphrey Sitima (The Great Gatsby, Immersive LDN), Natasha Williams (Off the Endz, Royal Court) and Kudzai Mangombe.
BY MUFARO MAKUBIKA
DIRECTED BY MONIQUE TOUKO