Finding Temeraire

is a melodramatic two-hander, by Zimbabwean New Zealander Stanley Makuwe, that finishes in less than an hour but packs a punch.

Primrose returns to her mining hometown to find it is a ghost town. She also seeks out Temeraire, a man she once knew, who climbed with her to heaven and then ordered her to hell (religious binaries abound and the only set dressing is a small cross).

The plot centres round an unwanted newborn; the child's fate is explicit enough that it may be triggering. However, lacking a little in detail, the characters themselves are best seen as ciphers and the play is richest seen not as a tragedy of individual humans but as a political parable.


Makuwe has said in interviews that the downfall of Temeraire from boss man to caretaker echoes the downfall of his town but Temeraire also seems to symbolise a lack of black solidarity. Primrose frames him explicitly as a friend of the white people who used to run the town, hire black prostitutes and arrogantly spend their servants' wages for them.

The play has already been produced in Zimbabwe (and Mangere) and seems to be written for audiences with deeper knowledge of Zimbabwe's history and political situation than that held by most New Zealanders (the reasons for the town's downfall, for example, are not made explicit).

The two actors (Sandra Zvenyika and Toi Whakaari graduate Tawanda Manyimo) are also originally from Zimbabwe and do a great job in the mostly static staging. Zvenyika's monologue unfolds the horror without histrionics; Manyimo's face silently expresses several subtle reactions.

The tight lighting casts wonderful expanses of threatening shadow while the attractive short duets bookending the action help bring us into and out of the setting. Taut and evocative.

What: Finding Temeraire
Where & when: Basement Theatre; until Saturday
Reviewer: Janet McAllister