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Mugabe, My Dad & Me at Brixton House

Hooray, there’s a brand-new theatre in south London and it’s a splendid place for theatregoers, be they living in the area or anywhere else for that matter. Brixton House is the replacement for the late, lamented Ovalhouse which nurtured many an actor and director’s career. Forced to close a couple of years ago, the much loved but down at heel venue has moved to a state of the art, modern building just a few minutes’ walk from Brixton tube station. It contains two black box theatres, one seating 180 and the other, 120.

Mugabe My Dad and Me
Mugabe My Dad and Me – Tonderai Munyevu.

Its first major production, housed in the larger of the two spaces is Mugabe, My Dad & Me written and performed by Zimbabwean born, London based Tonderai Munyevu. The stage itself is very plain with just a chair and a microphone but hanging from the ceiling are various uniforms, African street clothes both male and female and for some reason an England goalkeeper’s kit complete with gloves, the use of which was never explained or referred to.

The play starts with a short stand-up routine from Munyevu complete with a purposely childish joke about Robert Mugabe. However, Munyevu soon dispenses with the microphone and proceeds to tell his story. Then, after a few minutes, he’s joined on stage by Millie Chapanda (more about her later) who takes her seat on the chair.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me does exactly what it says in the title as Munyevu takes the audience backwards and forwards in time – as he himself says, it’s a non-linear story and sometime won’t make much sense. We hear his tale of having been brought up in Zimbabwe, how he and his mother leave his abusive father to join the diaspora (over 25% of the population leave the country during those turbulent times) and his move to London where he suffers from homophobia and rampant racism. He weaves his story beautifully taking in the mixed feelings he felt when his father died, Mugabe’s reign as President of the country as it moves from Rhodesia to an independent Zimbabwe, colonialism and how someone returning to the country of their birth is often treated as an outsider. All these threads are pulled together delightfully as Munyevu voices Mugabe, his father, his mother and even Tony Blair!

As good as Munyevu is – and he’s very good indeed – what gives this piece another dimension is Millie Chapanda. She plays the mbira, a wonderous instrument indigenous to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. She plays two of them during the evening and the largest one looks like it’s made from a hollowed-out gourd inside which are metal times that are plucked. The sound it makes is unique and ethereal – at times it sounds as if coming from a long way off and we’re hearing it through time and space. Chapanda also sings, hums, mouth-clicks and speaks aiding and abetting Munyevu’s wonderful storytelling which intertwines the story of his father and Mugabe, the father of his nation. This is a wonderful piece of theatre played by two superb performers in an excellent new theatre.

It’s a shame it didn’t get reviewed until near the end of the run but hopefully, it will get another life somewhere, as Mugabe, My Dad & Me and Tonderai Munyevu and Millie Chapanda and her mbira deserve to be seen and heard.

4 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

April, 1980. The British colony of Rhodesia becomes the independent nation of Zimbabwe. A born free, Tonderai Munyevu is part of the hopeful next generation from a country with a new leader, Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me
24 February-1 April
Mugabe, My Dad & Me charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father.

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