A powerful tale of resilience and overcoming great obstacles, this production has battled through in the spirit of its eponymous character. When the original actor fell ill only last month, Mara Menzies, sister of Director Isla Menzies, stepped in and saved the day. This exploration of the true story of Nzinga, one of Africa’s little-known yet intriguing female rulers, is a great piece of storytelling and more. Born in ancient Angola, into a patriarchal society, Nzinga defied tradition to become queen at the age of 50, with the aim of ensuring her people were kept safe from the technologically superior Portuguese and marauding Imbangala slave traders.
The strength of performance comes down to the show’s direct engagement with the audience.
As the story unfolds, we are taken through the various ways in which Nzinga uses her feminine charm, wit and (most unusual for 350 years ago) her education to achieve her aim. We are told at the start that “a girl was a girl, like a cow was a cow”; by the end of the story this is certainly not the case, although we are assured that it is no fairy tale. Nor is it a tale about gaining power for the sake of it; rather it is about achieving justice in the face of persecution and Imperialist interference. The strength of performance comes down to the show’s direct engagement with the audience. Using eye-contact and perfectly crisp diction, Menzies draws the audience into empathising with Nzinga.
Nzinga ranges from innocent, coquettish and humourous to wily and defiant, and her story has contrasting elements of lightness and pathos which carry the drama. With several costume changes, performed onstage, pauses in the narrative are filled imaginatively by the skilful percussionist (Yamil Ferrera, also a late stand-in) whose playing perfectly evokes the mood of what has been heard. There is, in an hour-long, one-woman show, a lot of information to take in and although additional multimedia was absent due to technical difficulties on this occasion, it worked well with voice and instruments alone. This show deserves to be seen, not just because the story is rich and relevant, but also because Toto Tales Productions have battled against the odds and survived.