By Rory Kilalea
The Good Minister of Kunyarara by June Caryll at REPS theatre upstairs is a riveting and often unnerving play. This play should be seen widely, either by video or at Festivals such as Edinburgh. Based in an unnamed African state, it melds movement with song, dance with drama, and holds an audience rapt for 90 minutes. The story traces the anguish of a “Good Minister” who wants to be an honourable man, serving the people, being a faithful husband and avoiding politics. His efforts are thwarted, and instead of the rage of Othello, he becomes a victim of the system. ‘I am only a bureaucrat’ does not work in this state where the earth is drenched with blood, where there are dire consequences for those who disturb the ant’s nest, who try to avenge the ghosts of the past.
As directed by Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi, the Ministers conscience is illustrated through ‘Ghosts’ of people murdered and thrown down a well in an area called Ithambo. The symbolism is immediately apparent to a Zimbabwean audience where, as one theatregoer said, truth is a rarely used currency. The Minister tries to avoid the ghosts, tries to reinforce his belief that he is a good man, that the past is not his responsibility – he says he is not into politics, he is a bureaucrat. But the erosion of morals and the increasing tension of his strength, temptation and vulnerability are palpable.
Set in a simple stage of white with an occasional video projection, the action becomes the hero. Guitar, voices, drumbeats, and the trickle of a hosho punctuate the drama which rises to an almost inevitable conclusion. We leave the theatre with images and challenges.
The directing and acting is outstanding. The genius of the piece is that, like a performance of Theatre of the Oppressed, we felt we are watching real people, going through real problems – that we are part of the confusion, the recognition of corruption and murder, the unfairness of a system at odds with the people. Indeed, at a Q/A session at the conclusion of the play, Augusto Boal’s theatre ‘techniques’ were fulfilled- a direct response to the play, audience interaction, dialogue, critical thinking, action, and fun.
Tafadzwa Bob Mutumbi (Director and The Good Minister) provided a tender, vulnerable and effective contrast to Chipo M Chikara- the Minister’s wife- a dominating presence on stage. Her subservience to her husband is soon dispelled by her “Wash your hands’ – a masterstroke of delivery. The line is memorable perhaps echoing Pilate. Mutumbi’s dilemma reached across to us..making us wonder whether he should have had more strength. The antagonist, and symbol of the State, is played by Tadziyana D Bvumbe who plays the ‘Detective”- backed up by men in sunglasses. He underscores the threat to the innocent. Bvumbe is oily and dangerous. A triumph. Politics squashing morality by fear and force. Musa Sibanda and Charmaine R Mujeri to play many roles; Mujeri has an animal magnetism feral energy.
Cadric Msongelwa – dominates the stage effortlessly. He gives a stunning visceral performance- either as the father or as the narrator. His comedic movements were a joy as the father and his fluid grace and movement reminded me of Tumbuka. Voices, percussion-all catapulted us into a world where everything and nothing was real. For every character, there was an unknown, a fear. The danger of being honest. Of being ‘Good”. The writing is powerful but could have been edited for time in the segment where the Minister sits alone on the stage and has to contend with his ‘demons’. The pace of the play stuttered at this point, and if the play is going to Festival, this could be an area to trim to time. The conclusion of the play would then have had more power.
However, the directing, the display of real acting, not artifice, was refreshing. Reminding us on our way home, that we may be in a country of ‘Ghosts.’ And what should we do about it.
I urge people to follow them on Facebook on ‘The Good Minister of Kunyararo’
Music by – MaestroWemhanda.music_zw and Nasibo
Movement by – Tatenda Chabarwa