by May (Mwewe) Sumbwanyambe
The Lie Of The Land
The country, a former colony, at first is unnamed. A farmer's family, husband Guy (Peter Guinness), wife Kathleen (Sandra Duncan) and daughter Chipo (Beatriz Romilly) all born in Africa, alone on their farm in the bush.
Any night time rustle may signal imminent danger, not from nature but from maurauding gangs of former soldiers. And the name of the farm? Independence.
Part family saga, part fable, we learn eventually this is modern Zimbabwe with a civil servant (Stefan Adegbole) making the trek to the farm with an offer to buy. An offer, so far, refused.
We never learn the ins and outs of funding and earning from the farm in a post colonial state. But this gives the play an archetypal feel and greater reach, stretching beyond Zimbabwe with implications of post colonialism for economies, property and families further afield..
This is the debut produced full-length play from May Sumbwanyambe. It sometimes feels like an apprentice work, as put together as a film script rather than theatre. but it has a pleasing clarity and intellectual rigor which keeps the attention.
At the same time, there is a tendency to over-explain and some clunky symbolism loaded mostly upon the mother Kathleen.
Yet focussing as much on young Africans, black and white, as the legacy left by older generations, it is directed with clever stylistic precision by George Turvey.
The lingering poses of the actors convey the vast vistas, entrenched self-dramatizing positions, alongside centuries of resentments . The enclosed wooden crate design by Max Dorey lit by Christopher Nairne also allows a feel of the ample raw resources, punishing labour and the open spaces beyond the wooden slats.
So it's a curious mixture of the over emphatic and the skilfully placed justaposition. The struggle for rights may be, as forcefully put, about the struggle for land.
But there is also a recognition there are some legacies of colonialism that are not just a matter of simple ownership reversal. A hint of the new tribe, having emerged from European exploitation, in the double edged comment of the daughter Chipo to bureacrat Charles:
"My family line may not go back in this country as far as yours, but we are all seedlings from the same tree, Charles. Only some are dark and some are light."
The myths of two separate peoples, in reality yoked together, clash in this intriguing if flawed work. Meanwhile the current predatory global search for property, whether for individual or collective enrichment, make the disquiet over government, employment, business, contracts and disenfranchisement hit close to home. An amber/green light.