‘Malindadzimu’ Is An Explosive Performance Full Of Everyday Lows And Intense Spiritual Highs: Review

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Image Credit: Robert Day

★★★★

Malindadzimu is the story of a mother and daughter duo, Faith and Hope, who transition faster than the speed of light from a life in Nottingham to one in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This sudden move comes after Hope tries to end her life by suicide.

The lighting and stage setting make the distinction between the two worlds clear. The scenes set in Nottingham are full of harsh, bright light, cold colours and next to no furniture. For example, in the hospital scene where Hope has just had her stomach pumped.

However, the scenes in Zimbabwe are full of warm, orange light and an abundance of wooden furniture, which gives the impression that Faith and her daughter are laying down roots for good. The inviting Bulawayo-style staging and atmosphere fills you with a sense of hope for this small family’s future.

The casting is absolutely perfect. The actors have wonderful chemistry, which makes their onstage familial relationships and friendships both realistic and relatable. The most comedic yet powerful interactions are between Kudzai Mangombe, who plays Hope, and Natasha Williams, who plays the house-help Gogo.

Hope has skittish mannerisms throughout the play, emphasising her anxiety-riddled and medicated state. Gogo brashly seeks to snap her out of it with every opportunity she gets. From teaching her how to make traditional Zimbabwean peanut butter to feeding her with words of affirmation: “I see an African woman…a real African woman at work…oh my child”. Then, suggesting to Faith that she sees a medium, to understand what medical professionals are calling hallucinations. The development of their bond is entertaining and heart-warming to watch unfold, especially with their introduction starting with the lines “you’re crazy…beat her good…crazy bitch” and more.

The play addresses some important and controversial themes, including colonialism and spiritual empowerment. Malindadzimu—the name given to the Matobo Hills where Cecil John Rhodes’ remains are buried—means ‘burial place of the defied ancestors’. Rhodes introduced laws that displaced the black community, in the name of industrialisation, and erected the foundations for the Apartheid movement. Some say his remains should be exhumed and don’t belong in Zimbabwean soil. Spiritual empowerment makes its entrance, with the play presenting a sense of injustice that needs to be corrected.

King Lobengula fought a losing battle with Rhodes over his Southern African Ndebele Kingdom, with the discovery of its gold. He appears to Hope, asking her to “dig up Rhodes”, so he can finally rest. It appears this assignment alleviates her medicated unrest in a mysterious way—as though it was what troubled her all along. The “mission” seems to be what she needed to empower her to overcome her mental and emotional demons.

In a state of confusion and possession, very close to the end of the play, Hope chants: “The will of the ancestors must prevail…my path is clear now”. Calm is restored and Hope comes out of her frantic trance after accepting the assignment. At the end of the play rain falls, ending the drought that has ravaged the mother and daughter’s farmland in Zimbabwe. It is a metaphor for the reigniting of the pair’s spiritual destiny in the motherland and hopefully marks the entrance of better days ahead.

Malindadzimu has a small but mighty cast who perform passionately. They are the heartbeat of the stage, bringing it alive with humour, dance, raging maternal and teenage instincts, explosive moments of anxiety, suicide near misses, colonial grief, ancestral conjurings and unexpected spiritual empowerment.

The play is showing at Hampstead Theatre from 17 September till 30 October 2021.

Words by Solape Alatise


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