Philobiblon: Fear prowls in Zimbabwe

Friday, April 14, 2006

Fear prowls in Zimbabwe

Fear is on the prowl in Zimbabwe - in, sadly, the real Zimbabwe, and in the Zimbabwe of Fraser Grace's Breakfast with Mugabe, the RSC New Work production now at the Soho Theatre. The beast first unleashed, perhaps, when a group of Australopithicenes turned first on a sabre-toothed tiger and made themselves not prey but predator, the beast of revenge, of the anger born of suffering, is here. It was reined-in, controlled, soothed, managed - so miraculously - in South Africa by Nelson Mandela, but not in Zimbabwe.

So it is appropriate that Grace should build his play around a psychiatrist - a white, liberal psychiatrist who's spent his life studying the intersection of western thought on the brain and African spirituality - called in to treat the problems of President Robert Mugabe (Christopher Obi), who's being tormented by a ngozi, the angry spirit of a former comrade-in-arms. The psychiatrist, Andrew Perric (David Rintoul) - in appearance and voice all bluff, red-faced classic settler type - is patently aware of the dangers of his position, but determined to turn the President into "Robert", the patient. Although his motives might just extend beyond a doctor's desire to heal.

The lighter relief - this is always dark comedy, but there is no shortage of laughs - come chiefly through Grace Mugabe (Noma Dumezwemi). She is brittle, smart and grasping, with no illusions about the way modern Zimbabwe functions. Grace doesn't fear ghosts, but has a healthy horror or her husband's mental instability. Her scene with the strong-arm bodyguard Gabriel (Christopher Obi) - no angel he - conducted entirely in Shona, except for two key words, "Mercedes" and "Coupe", is a tiny comic masterpiece of writing and acting. READ MORE


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