Not even the relentless downpour could deter the keen theatregoers as they huddled around the stage at The Wardrobe Theatre for a ‘one night only’ rendition of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe,My Dad & Me as part of the Afrika Eye festival in Bristol.
Adapted from his acclaimed play of the same name as a solo performance, Tonderai Munyevu is accompanied by the renowned Shona cultural artist Millicent Chapanda, who plays the traditional Zimbabwean instrument of mbira to complement Munyevu’s delivery.
The monologue begins with an encounter Munyevu had as he was pulling a pint for a patron, a white male in his sixties who asked abruptly “where are you from?”
After the stunned silence from Munyevu, the patron kept on the line of questioning. What seems to be a straightforward question seems infinitely complex. What is home? It’s neither here nor there. The silent rage and micro aggression triggers a series of questions about Munyevu’s native Zimbabwe.
What happened to “the bread basket of Africa” is never an easy question to answer as it presents a complex web of family bonds, national pride, dictatorship, death and destruction.
The semi-autobiographical monologue traces the narrator’s roots right back to his birth in the newly declared independent 1980s Zimbabwe, which was led by the energetic revolutionary Robert Mugabe.
Munyevu’s father got fired from his work as an accountant after he got into an altercation with a white colleague and refused to apologise. All the material wealth steadily evaporated and the family was reduced to abject poverty. Munyevu’s portrayal of his father is a reflection of many “ordinary people” as he calls them.
His mother decided to move to England with him in search of opportunity but Zimbabwe or Mugabe were never far from their thoughts as they religiously followed the news cycle surrounding him.
Through the autobiographical story, Munyevu takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride as he recounts the alienation he felt as a black gay man. He reflects on his first sexual awakening with a disarming candour and rawness that casts a cloud of lugubrious solemnity over the audience. The repeated refrain, “that was my first kiss” falls over us like a shaman priest conferring a benediction.
The former colonial enforcers do not escape Munyevu’s probing scrutiny as he questions their complicit stance in Mugabe’s state-orchestrated Gukurahundi genocide, which claimed 20,000 lives.
The one-time freedom fighter morphed into a merciless autocrat who began to rule with an iron fist. And yet we are reminded that “all migrants suffer from memory”. This philosophical aphorism poses many questions on the concept of home and identity. Munyevu halts his stream of conscientiousness to ask “why am I not just a person?”
He also recounts how he learnt of his father’s death while he was heavily under the influence of a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and sex. “Death is a phone call!” he explains.
The final segment of the monologue consists of Munyevu’s attempt to converse with the spirit of his father before his grave, drinking for comfort. He did not hear his father talking back to him, but instead, the voice of Robert Mugabe – an inescapable presence even after his demise.
Throughout the performance Munyevu’s delivery is potent and poignant. The hypnotic trance of Chapanda’s ethereal musical and vocal accompaniment heightens the ambience still further.
Mugabe, My Dad & Me is a tour de force of unmatched storytelling, coupled with forgotten lessons of history.
Mugabe, My Dad and Me is part of Afrika Eye, which runs until November 17. More information on the festival is available at www.afrikaeye.org.uk.