"It's amazing how much interest it's stirred up. Stanley was telling me about a conversation he overhead when an elderly lady said, 'there's a story about a New Zealander going to Africa and becoming Prime Minister of Rhodesia but that's quite absurd. If that had happened, I would have heard about it'."
From her home in Bulawayo, Zimbabwean political activist and journalist Judith Todd allows herself a gentle chuckle.
The story she refers to, by Auckland-based Zimbabwean playwright Stanley Makuwe, is called Black Lover about a white New Zealander who went to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in the 1930s and became Prime Minister from 1953 – 58.
Absurd as it may sound to some, it's true.
Judith is the second daughter of Garfield Todd, who left Invercargill in 1934 to spend the rest of his life – first as a missionary and then as a politician and activist - in southern Africa where he felt truly at home.
Becoming PM of Southern Rhodesia (later Rhodesia, then Zimbabwe), he lost favour with the British colonial rulers when he introduced reforms aimed at improving life for the country's black majority. This saw him forced out of Parliament and, later, placed under house arrest.
Sir Garfield Todd's contribution to a shared New Zealand/Zimbabwean history isn't widely known – at least not here. That's likely to change with the opening of Black Lover, a nod to the slurs Todd endured in Africa and, Makuwe discovered through research, New Zealand where some branded him a "race traitor".
Interest has been running high in the production, with extra performances already added.
Makuwe describes Black Lover not as an attempt to rewrite history or facts but as an imagined extract from Todd's life when, detained at his ranch, he strikes up a series of conversations with his young cook, a native Zimbabwean. Makuwe, who works as a psychiatric nurse in South Auckland, wrote it partly because of the anecdote he would relate to his workmates.
"They would come to me and say, 'are you from South Africa?' And I would tell them, 'No, I am not but I am from Africa, from Zimbabwe,' and then I would tell them how our two countries were connected, like brother and sister. They would go, 'really? Did that really happen?' so that's how the writing came about."
Cameron Rhodes plays Todd; Simbarashe Matshe is Steady. Putting an older white male on the stage with a young black man is, says Makuwe, a political statement and a way to reflect on the conversations still to be had.
Thanks to a childhood in Zimbabwe, Matshe also knew of Garfield Todd but Rhodes admits he hadn't heard of him until Black Lover came up.
"The big question I had was what on an earth was he doing there? How did a New Zealander from Invercargill end up being Prime Minister of a predominantly black African country? I find it absolutely extraordinary how he came to be in this position.
"I think it's extraordinarily relevant now and that's what really appealed to me about doing it because it's a play that really means something. It's fascinating because, in a way, it's both a New Zealand and an African play dealing with values we share ... There are a lot of similarities between these seemingly different people stuck in the same situation."
Judith Todd is delighted that her father's story has made it to the stage, but isn't surprised his name is largely unknown.
"It is quite a long time ago since he left New Zealand and I think it's people who stay at home who you remember the most, like Sir Edmund Hillary," she says, before relating a story of how Sir Ed visited their home when she was a child and what a wonderful evening it was.
Anecdotes like this might lead one to believe the Todd family had a charmed life, but the reality is markedly different. Judith joined her father in campaigning internationally against white minority rule and was imprisoned, force fed when she went on a hunger strike and, eventually, expelled.
Returning to Rhodesia eight years later, as it became Zimbabwe and transitioned to independence in 1980, the Todds were optimistic but, says Judith, it soon became clear Robert Mugabe would be an authoritarian leader heading a brutal regime. The Todds became outspoken critics of Mugabe; Judith was raped on his orders and later stripped of her Zimbabwean citizenship while Garfield Todd, too, was frequently under house arrest and, aged 94, stripped of his Zimbabwean nationality. He died that same year.
With Mugabe's demise, Todd, 76, now says she feels safe but sees much work to be done to overcome Mugabe's legacy.
"I mean, basically the fabric of the country was torn up; the economy was smashed, agriculture was smashed, so many of our brightest people – like Stanley Makuwe – have gone into the diaspora so, I am sorry, to say it will probably take a generation or two to get back to what it should be. But there are good things; I now feel safe. We don't have that terrible person or the daily censorship hanging over you."
Black Lover, Q Theatre Loft until Saturday, April 4