Zimbabwean playwright Stanley Makuwe has written a powerful, moving and emotionally charged play about a piece of history many of us know little about.
His gripping tale, which focuses on just one night during the house arrest of Invercargill-born Sir Garfield Todd, the ousted prime minister of what was then called Rhodesia, is a story that will stay with you long after the play ends.
With the talented Cameron Rhodes playing Todd, the audience is treated to a truly nuanced and thoughtful portrayal of the man who was a liberal prime minister of the country and went on to be a vocal opponent of white minority rule in the country.
Rhodes is well matched on stage by Simbarashe Matshe who plays the young cook or houseboy employed by the Todd family. Matshe is absolutely brilliant to watch on stage and from his first dramatic entrance he captures the attention of the audience and manages to balance the humour of his characters actions and words in parts of the play without allowing his portrayal of the young Zimbabwean to ever drop to the level of caricature or mockery.
While late in the play we learn Matshe's character's name is Ingwé (my apologies for the Anglicisation spelling of the name), he is referred to as Steady by Todd.
The fact the name Todd uses is not his African name is used as the tension between the two builds during the play, serving as a poignant reminder that Todd himself may have been a liberal but he was also still a colonial and did have colonial attitudes to certain things. This point is also well demonstrated as the two argue about religion, with Ingwé adamant that it is the ancestors, not Todd's Jesus, who intercedes with God on behalf of people.
The talent of the two actors on stage is well matched by the backstage team, who have worked hard to create a flawless piece of theatre that fully takes you to a particular moment in time.
Rachael Walker's set is perfectly done, showing the colonial style furniture and other accoutrements inside against a backdrop of African bushland seen outside the windows. The red dust of the view outside is reflected inside too, with warm lighting at the start, creating a feeling of sunset, but also perhaps ominously hinting at the bloodshed happening just outside.
As the drama progresses, the lighting becomes more and more shadowy and builds the suspense and drama of the storyline perfectly.
The sound design is also flawless, from the murmur of a radio to the terrifying gunfire heard outside, along with other sounds of war and conflict.
The story of Sir Garfield Todd might not be overly well known, but with the skilful writing of Makuwe, combined with the talent and authenticity on stage of Rhodes and Matshe, it is a story that will stay with you long after the play ends.
Black Lover by Stanley Makuwe is playing at the TSB Showplace Theatre tonight as part of Reset 2020. Tickets are available online: www.reset2020.co.nz