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INTERVIEW: Tafadzwa Muchenje on Where We Began

The UK’s first Theatre Company of Sanctuary, Stand and Be Counted, present Where We Began, a wild and vivid vision of the future that combines storytelling, movement and live music. Five performers from across the globe challenge existing notions of ‘home’ in a multilingual celebration of personal identity. 

They consist of Shireen Farkhoy as The Transition Guide (Persian British Actor), Zoe Katsilerou as The Traveller (Greek Physical Performer & Singer), Fernanda Mandagará as The Imposter (Brazilian Actress, Writer, Director & Producer), Rosie MacPherson as The Terrorist (British Playwright & Performer), and finally real-life refugee Tafadzwa Muchenje as The Real One (Zimbabwean Performer & Dancer).

Rich Jevons from The Reviews Hub spoke to Tafadzwa Muchenje ahead of a national tour, including six venues in Yorkshire.

What was the initial germ for the production, and how has it been developed?

Stand and Be Counted (SBC) had been touring a piece called Tanja, about detention centres, which was a piece of campaign protest theatre that I went to see. It was a very powerful production for me, because at that time I was going through a very serious situation with the immigration department.

It was a relief to know there were other people out there, because it felt like I’d walked into this world where you are on your own. It felt like no one understood and no one can help you. But to see Tanja, all of this was knocked down. There are other people out there, and in worse situations, so afterwards I spoke to SBC to understand why they had put this show on. I was fortunate enough to tell them my story and from there we got together and talked about ideas of where we wanted to go with this.

So can you go through your potted life history?

I was born in Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa when I was six months old. From there, I moved to the UK when I was 11 and grew up here. I only speak English, as I went through the British education system. I went to university but did not finish my degree as there were problems with my immigration status. But now, I have a girlfriend and family here.

And what exactly is the situation with the Home Office at the moment?

At the moment I am in clear waters, but there is always this uncertainty that it could happen again, especially with the Brexit situation.

How does it feel being an actor in a play who has the same history as the character you are playing?

It is weird as I am quite a young performer, so it is quite a surreal situation. I feel like it’s just me, and I do not think there’s a wall where I become The Real One. So I am quite fortunate that I am able to be myself and that I am able to express myself fully and emotionally.

In rehearsals there was a point where you added to the narrative. Is that something that is going to continue?

Definitely. I think in the two years that we have been developing the script we have gathered a lot of information. But there are still moments where the cast can express ourselves and even tweak it. It makes us feel like we are being true and honest to ourselves, and that way the audience can really tell that we are genuine.

Through that, we have developed as performers and as a result, the piece itself has developed because it is our own interpretation or ideas. We have all put our own input or identity into it. That has made it more wholesome and true.

What would you like the audience to take away with them?

We want people to think about the implication of immigration for themselves, because, at the end of the day, we all have similar feelings, ideas and notions. We want people to realise these things are happening in our country. For example, I didn’t know that we had detention centres in the UK – people can be held indefinitely, just for the fact they seek asylum here.

So for me, it is about getting that information out there. It is getting mine, and other people’s, stories heard. Because at the end of it, there is so much misinformation out there and people get lost between the lines. If people come together and talk we can overcome this massive injustice.

Where We Began premieres at CAST in Doncaster (13 & 14th September) before heading to the Theatre Royal in York on the 15th September, and a further five performances in Yorkshire including Square Chapel Halifax (4 October), Carriageworks Theatre Leeds (6th October), Sheffield Theatres (11 October) and Theatre in the Mill Bradford (13 – 14 October) as part of a 24 date national tour, ending at the Camden People’s Theatre in London on 28 October 2018.

The Reviews Hub - South West

The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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