Review: Mugabe, My Dad & Me at York Theatre Royal

I had no preconceptions of this play which is premiering at York theatre Royal from 9 to 18 September. Maybe it would be a resume of what happened in Zimbabwe from 1980, until Mugabe’s fall from power  in 2017? In fact, it turned out to be a young man’s search for identity which began in a London bar when he was asked: ‘Where do you come from?’

By Angie Millard

Photos by Jane Hobson

Magabe is a controversial figure: a guerrilla revolutionary who overcame White Supremacy but eventually turned into an autocrat. His role is like many unelected leaders throughout the world. Writer Tonderai Munyevu sets himself a difficult task to use this as a backdrop while he establishes the truth about his beginnings, disentangling fact from myth.

The author was what was termed a ‘born free’ which means he was born in the 1980s after independence. He traces the beginnings of Zimbabwe’s decline in prosperity. His father eventually lost his job and their lives changed when Munyevu and his mother emigrated to Britain. Gradually, he began to question his identity and to examine what it means to return ‘home’.

He is an author who writes and performs and he has many credits including work at The Royal Court, Soho Theatre, The Young Vic, Birmingham Rep and Edinburgh Fringe.

Millicent Chapanda performs impressive vocals playing the Mbira, a Zimbabwean drum, to create the atmosphere of life in Zimbabwe. She also sits on stage representing the author’s mother and also Mbuya Nehanda, a female icon who was central to the first war of liberation.

The set is a series of clothes on hangers, suspended from above. They act as a ghostly presence representing those who died in The Rhodesian wars and subsequent programs and at one point a uniform represents Mugabe himself. Munyevu interrogates the costume as to what could be said to his dead 17 year old uncle to justify his loss of life.

By returning to his birth place, he discovers the truth about why his father lost his job when he refused to apologise to a white man. Why he lost hope and became an alcoholic. It is the other side of the story that  his mother told him.

Munyevu is a compelling actor and his stage presence carries the audience through the 1 hour and 25 minutes of this theatrical insight into a man’s journey to find truth and identity. The director injects changes of rhythm and pace. The use of lighting and sound are haunting.  Mugabe’s history can be researched but the effects on one man of being born in a country undergoing revolutionary change adds the personal viewpoint to history.

I was taken by surprise; it is a thought provoking piece of theatre.

Mugabe, My Dad & Me is being performed at York Theatre Royal from 9 to 18 September 2021. It was directed by John R. Wilkinson. It was performed by Tonderai Munyevu and Millicent Chapanda. The Designer was Nicolai Hart-Hansen. The Sound Designer and composer was Nigel Glasgow.