Malindadzimu – Hampstead Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Mufaro Makubika

Director: Monique Touko

African-British identity is the subject of Mufaro Makubika’s second play Malindadzimu premiering at the Hampstead Theatre, in which a young woman moves to Zimbabwe and finds herself at the centre of an ancient curse on the land. With strands examining the cultural experience of community traditions and global connectedness, Makubika’s story is a domestic tale of belonging and self-discovery.

Recovering from a suicide attempt, teenager Hope is taken from Nottingham to live in Zimbabwe. As relations sour between mother and daughter, Hope develops a close connection to local elder Gogo who guides her through the transition to a different way of life until the Ancients lay claim to Hope and demand she acts to save them.

Running at around 95-minutes, Malindadzimu considers the long legacy of colonial oppression and governance within the complexities of modern identities influenced by two quite different nations. As Hope adapts to her new circumstances, Makubika demonstrates how a small sense of displacement grows into a calling to be close to the customs and people she finds in her new homeland, and these innate aspects of her character guide her towards a greater understanding of her heritage.

Less successful is the fierce parental interaction that Makubika uses to couch his story of personal and spiritual awakening. No real explanation for the circumstance of Hope’s suicide attempt is given, nor is the hinted depression that continues to plague her fully woven into the play. Instead, about two-thirds of Malindadzimu falls into repetitive sequences about a sulky teenager and overly strict mother ending with Hope storming off which enhances neither plot nor characterisation.

Faith’s purpose in bringing her daughter to another country seems equally at odds with the considerable detachment she expresses towards the place, and with further unexplored references to Hope’s absent father and Faith’s mismanagement of the farm she decided to buy with no experience, the story leaves too many loose ends.

The final part of the play has considerable energy in Monique Touko’s production, staging the healer’s ceremonies with verve and a dynamism missing in other parts of the play. Here Zoe Hurwitz’s flexible set design and Matt Haskins’ lighting unite with Max Pappenheim’s sound to create a pulsing rhythm as the tension of connecting to the spiritual world builds. Drawing this pivotal element into the play much sooner and, perhaps, focusing more on the defining impact of Cecil Rhodes on the landscape and the scars his physical presence has left behind would strengthen the drama.

Kudzai Mangombe shows Hope’s development from reluctant visitor desperate to return to the UK to a comfortable sense of belonging, as well as the fear and burden of a task she cannot fulfil. Shyko Amos has least to work with as Faith, a woman who reveals so little to the audience that it’s difficult to understand her motivations, while Natasha Williams steals the show as Gogo, a wonderful comic creation who knows how to manipulate her new friends but becomes a guiding presence all the same.

Malindadzimu starts to explore some really interesting concepts and how the resting place of a controversial figure affects subsequent generations, particularly when concepts of African and British identities have expanded considerably. But the play spends too long setting the scene and doesn’t quite fulfil its promise.

Runs until 30 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Loose ends

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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