Writer: Mufaro Makubika
Director: Esther Richardson
Reviewer: Dave Smith
Writer Mufaro Makubika is a Zimbabwean national now living in Nottingham and, having previously been accepted on to the Royal Court’s Young Writers Programme, is clearly forging an exciting future for himself in British theatre.
Joseph, the protagonist in his one-man dramaHow to Breathe, is also a Zimbabwean national in Britain, but one facing a far scarier and more uncertain future. It’s only three years since he left his homeland for a new life in the UK, and he’s still coming to terms with life in his new home. Now, after time spent working in warehouses, care homes and Boots, he’s a soldier in the British Army, and we join him the night before he goes out on his first tour of duty, to Afghanistan. As he packs his bags, he talks about his life in Zimbabwe: his childhood, his family, his friends and his girl, Martine. He shares his experiences as an immigrant, the frustrations of never being accepted entirely for himself, always having to catch up, always having to justify himself. What he is telling us, however, is clearly a distraction, because something far heavier is weighing on his mind in the background.
The play is being staged in the small Neville Studio, with the audience scattered around on folding chairs and army beds, at times making us part of the space Joseph inhabits, genuine participants in his story. For the hour of the performance, actor Trevor Mugarisanwa holds the audience’s full attention, entirely convincing, and completely focused in an intimate and unforgiving space for such an intense monologue – even as an unbelievable number of mobile phones go off in the audience over the first 20 minutes or so. It’s a physical and honest rôle, and he is confident, engaging and likeable as both character and performer.
The end, when it comes, is sudden, leaving the audience uncertain whether they are now expected to applaud – and even when they do, very few are convinced enough that the performance is actually over to get up and leave afterwards. The ending is also perhaps the weakest part of the show, not entirely in keeping with the character in whose company we have spent the last hour. But this is a minor quibble about a powerful piece that should be allowed to reach a wider audience – and hopefully heralds bright futures for both writer and actor.
Photo: Robert Day | Runs until Saturday 21 February