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The Rain That Washes
Published on Thursday, 15 August 2013

4 stars

Pleasance Dome (venue website)
31 Jul, 1-6, 8-17 Aug, 1:40pm-2:40pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

If I ask you to think about violence in Zimbabwe, you’ll probably picture the eviction of white farmers in the early 2000’s or the bloodshed and intimidation surrounding the presidential election of 2008. But the story goes back far further than that; and this intense one-man play from London’s Chickenshed Theatre throws the spotlight on another troubled period from the country’s past. Set during the dying days of Ian Smith’s government and the transition to black majority rule, it paints a bleak but vivid picture of young man caught between powerful forces, and of hope for the future turning to banishment and despair.

The clever backdrop sets the tone for this play: it’s a map of Zimbabwe made from fragments of posters, some of them from the world of politics and some of them celebrating sport.  As a young man, the central character dreams of becoming a word-class footballer – but a chance encounter with Joshua Nkomo, known as “Father Zimbabwe”, sets him on a different path.  There’s a real poignancy to these early scenes, because we all know what happens in the end: Nkomo is denounced, his rival Robert Mugabe assumes unfettered rule, and the cycle of violence begins once again.

Ashley Maynard delivers a powerful performance as the young follower of Nkomo – a role that’s based on the real-life story of Christopher Maphosa, who originates from Zimbabwe and now works for Chickenshed in London.  Maynard creates a believable, likeable version of Maphosa, assisted by little more than a hat and a packing trunk.  For a few scenes he steps into another character – his evocation of Mugabe was especially chilling – and I wished there’d been a little more of that to break things up and help us follow along.  But it’s towards the end that he really shows his acting mettle, with a show of restrained emotion as Maphosa’s dream turns to terror.

Even if you already know the broad historical tale, there are some eye-opening moments.  There’s a horrific, visceral description of the effects of napalm, and the image of what it’s like to arrive at a refugee camp was heartbreaking – with tragic relevance in the world today.  And the script evokes the Zimbabwean landscape particularly well.  At times I felt I could almost see the jungle, hear the tiger crashing through the trees.

I felt the pacing could bear some fine-tuning; towards the beginning, the narrative was a little gabbled, while the middle section dragged for me.  And there are a few incidental characters, who in the interests of clarity could arguably be cut.  Ultimately though, The Rain That Washes is only partially a work of theatre; more importantly than that, it’s a piece of reportage, a chronicle of a period in Zimbabwe’s history that it’s dangerously easy for our generation to forget.  And judging by the horrified gasps from some of the audience, that’s a mission in which it unambiguously succeeds.

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