Magetsi

Fri 18th – Sat 19th May 2012

reviews

Suwita Hani Randhawa

at 03:18 on 19th May 2012

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This is a play without frills and fancy but with incredible depth. The entire performance makes use of only a few items as its props – a tin bucket, a piece of African fabric, a hand-held musical instrument (that sounds similar to the traditional mbira instrument) and two chairs as its props. This minimalism is extremely powerful; the bareness of the stage inevitably forces you to take note of crucial creative effects throughout the play. At times, the props are used to introduce different characters into the narrative and on other occasions, they are cleverly used to signal a change in physical setting.

The emptiness of the stage, however, is more than compensated by the host of characters that come alive throughout the performance. This was an entertaining surprise, particularly because only two actors make up the play’s cast. The two actors impressively play a multitude of different characters and this is done with great enthusiasm. The play is entertaining precisely because of the way these characters are depicted with great wit and comedy. As much as the actors provoke genuine laughter from the audience, there isn’t much chemistry between them. At times, this prevents the play from achieving a deeper measure of emotional intensity from its portrayal of human relationships.

Being a play set in contemporary Zimbabwe, it seemed impossible from the outset for it to be divorced from politics. We get an immediate whiff of politics in the opening moments, when the main character introduces himself. His name, Democratic, explicitly exudes politics. Contrary to my expectations, however, 'Magetsi' turned out not to be a political commentary on Zimbabwean politics. To be sure, aspects of ‘the political’ are central to several scenes of the play. One scene, for instance, centers on police corruption while another directly tackles the hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean economy. However, because these scenes are heavily infused with humour, wittiness and comedy, grim political realities quickly recede into the background. And for a split second, one forgets that we are meant to be in Harare.

But before we are given the chance to (re)imagine a different time and place in our minds, we are forcefully commanded to return to Zimbabwe. This is achieved primarily through some dialogue in the Shona language, as well as the singing of several moving Shona songs. There is also a heavy dose of caricaturing Zimbabwean mannerisms and accents. There is therefore an unmistakable sense that the play is concerned more with portraying the daily rhythm and vibes of Zimbabwean life than the country’s politics of the day.

It quickly becomes evident, however, that the play privileges a different conception of the political struggle. Beneath the humour and the comedy lies a complex story about the personal struggle concerning heritage and identity. Democratic, who escaped Zimbabwe to live in London, is reluctantly forced to return due to his father’s death. During the seven days he spends in Harare, he faces anger, resentment and hostility from his family members for having left them for a better life abroad. And on a personal level, his return forces him to confront the fact that he is now an outsider in Zimbabwe. It is the politics of identity and heritage, and the personal struggle that accompanies escape and exile, that really marks out the substance of this play.

'Magetsi' is a heart-warming and energetic ride into the heart and soul of Harare. In a short space of time, it zooms us through characters, places, and sounds that represent the heartbeat of Zimbabwe’s capital city. Crucially though, it also makes the poignant statement that physical spaces initially define but then confrontingly re-define our identities.

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