The premise of this show, delivered by the North London theatre company Chickenshed, is both stirring and foreboding. Stirring as it promises to tell a true story within the fight for Zimbabwean independence, and foreboding because it takes the form of the notoriously varied 'one man show' format. However, our fears are allayed the moment Ashley Maynard takes to the stage.
From a historical lens this production is elucidating.
The young actor is self-assured in a confident, but not cocky fashion. He delivers his darkly humorous interjections while never belittling his sensitive subject matter, and he interacts with the audience to just the right degree so as not to entirely destroy the immersion we undergo in his story. Maynard is asked a lot of by his director, to play both Christopher Maphosa, the man upon which the story is based, and every character he encounters. Maynard handles this challenge well, taking on the difficult array of accents with apparent ease.
The narrative of the piece and its truthful origins, makes the performance all the more emotive. Creator, Dave Carey's carefully tempered mixture of humour, childhood nostalgia, and socio-political history worked wonders. The production would not have worked so well if it had eschewed these more personable elements. The notion of the micro/personal considered within the macro/historical actually combined to increase the gravity of both. Without one, the other would be lost to over-sentimentality or bleak history respectively, as it was they worked perfectly in tandem. The production team also managed to create the perfect blend of sparse lighting and sounds that did not overwhelm the audience in this extremely small theatre.
From a historical lens this production is elucidating. This personal story of Zimbabwean revolution and civil war provides an antidote to news broadcasts of the era and an introduction to the trauma colonial rule has inflicted on an entire continent. But the show does not play any sort of underlying blame game. While a quick jibe over the western 'discovery' of Victoria Falls as a Euro-centric fallacy may be referenced and recognised as a factor, the story is about the personal experience, not post-colonial bitterness.
The show's perfect blend of the political and the individual left many an audience member in tears. The touching homage the production pays towards both Maphosa and his fellow murdered revolutionaries will leave the most iron-hearted softened and thoughtful for days after.