This piece of historical new writing takes its audience through four periods in Zimbabwe’s turbulent past, stretching a staggering 120 years, from 1895 to 2015. The action shifts from the toxic time soon after Cecil Rhodes began his colonial project in Zimbabwe and the resulting Matabele Wars, to Mugabe and Nkomo’s Nationalist resistance in the sixties, to the mass killings of dissidents against Mugabe’s premiership, and finally to the unstable yet hopeful present. It is seldom that the people of Britain’s former colonies are given the voice to tell their own history in their own way in Britain, to reveal the forgotten people behind the history of violence consistently ignored in our schoolbooks. This renders Rooftop Promotion’s
Lamentations explores an important history often ignored in this country, something which all UK citizens should consider.
Gertrude Vimbayi Munhamo’s original script follows the lives of those most vulnerable in times of conflict, and those most often forgotten by history - young girls. The child protagonists, played by the writer herself and Dalma Chiwereva grow up against the background of pivotal and tragic moments in Zimbabwe’s history. The play charts their early childhood innocence, conveyed with great sensitivity by adult actors, and its inevitable disintegration at the hands of crippling war. Stories of community, destruction and restoration, friendship and love in Zimbabwean society are narrated in the first-person with an unrelenting intimacy.
A pattern emerges: At first the different children frolic, giggle and play with their friends in their beautiful surroundings, which, despite the minimalistic set, are brought to life by vivid descriptive monologues delivered passionately throughout. Next in the play’s cyclical structure comes the corruption of this prelapsarian innocence with the onset of political conflict. The arresting power of the piece comes from its use of stark contrast between these two paradigms of innocence and crisis; amusing moments of childhood bliss are slashed violently by flashes of sudden loss, killing, rape and misery. Moments of juvenile jocularity brimming with energy, song and dance, are followed by brutal solemnity, silence and darkness. Such are the extremes of life in a society plagued by political turmoil.
Munhamo delivers the words which she herself wrote with a gripping resonance and emotional intensity, establishing her as the play’s true storyteller, tying disparate segments of history together into a single heartbreaking narrative. Her first-person narration is intimately personal, yet is also enlivened by the onstage dynamic between her and Dalma Chiwereva. Chiwereva’s versatility supplies much needed energy, as she shifts characters effortlessly from female to male, young to old, delighted to tortured. This is a play which focuses on the abuse of women, physical, sexual and mental, throughout history, as a constant agonising facet of war; those least deserving suffer most in times of conflict.
Lewis Ndlovu’s percussion provides an enriching dimension to the piece, capturing at different times the excitement of youth, the potency of nationalistic sentiment, the euphoria of victory as well as the devastation of torture. Traditional African drumming elicits both the outer and inner environment of the young girls’ lives. This is a piece as concerned with sound and atmosphere, and with the effect of this on the mind, as it is with the brute visuals of violence.
Lamentations’ shortcomings come from the vastness of the task it took upon itself, from the huge and complex subject matter and issues it tackles, which would inevitably be difficult to explore in their fullness during the running time of a Fringe show. The play’s structure is often unclear, as is the distinction between characters and periods. Though repetition is vital to reinforce the cyclical terror of Zimbabwe’s history, identical iterations of certain scenes failed to add much to the piece.
The use of real historical footage behind the action serves as an important reminder of the overwhelming effect of war on individual lives yet often distracts from the action. At times its arrangement fails to communicate a historical narrative to those unfamiliar with Zimbabwe’s past. However, the very difficulty of relating this history poses a crucial question to UK audiences: Why are we are not told enough about our past colonial brutality and its effects? This renders the performance of this piece at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival all the more important.
Perhaps the play’s most striking image is its first; the audience are immersed in a blackout when all of a sudden, as if from nowhere, a flame is lit, struggling against the darkness. Around this flame, as if a reaction to it, sounds of nature spring about. Someone coughs. Although Zimbabwe’s history is full of colonial violence, civil war and struggle, the spirit of its people, the flame within them, will never go out. Lamentations explores an important history often ignored in this country, something which all UK citizens should consider. The consequences of political turmoil on the individual lives of the vulnerable, however, is increasingly relevant to the present, and is something which all people should consider. See it.