|Photo by Nick McKinlay|
BLACK JESUS, introduces to the Australian (Sydney) audience, a political/activist writer, Anders Lustgarten. He lives in Britain and was the inaugural winner of the Harold Pinter Prize. His plays have included amongst others: IF YOU DON'T LET US DREAM, WE WON'T LET YOU SLEEP (2013) - concerned with financial capitalism; LAMPEDUSA (2015) - concerned with the refugee/migrant situation in Europe.
BLACK JESUS, written in 2013, is set in Zimbabwe, in 2015 (in the future, then), and it concerns an investigation by a Truth and Justice Commission, into the 'Green Bombers' set up by the Mugabe Government. Eunice Ncube (Belinda Jombwe-Cotterill) is seeking to discover the mechanisms of some of the crimes of the past, and is examining Gabriel Chibamu (Elijah Williams), who, as a child soldier, became an infamous leader known as Black Jesus:
"And do you know why I was called by that name? Because I decided who would be saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it to myself. I am Black Jesus. I do not crawl."
A white investigator, Rob Palmer (Jarrod Crellin), romantically entangled with Eunice, finds pressure from a minister of the new regime of power, Endurance Moyo (Dorian Nkono), too much to bear and shifts pre-occupation to survive, as does Eunice, herself, as her family history, muddies her motivational intentions.
The play reveals the complications of government and the ambiguities that may be necessary to maintain order, where the events and histories of all in the past maybe neither 'right or wrong' or clearly 'guilty or innocent', creating the inevitable need for compromises, maybe, to seek truth and give justice. What is Truth? What is Justice? And can it be defined, practically, in the modern world?
The play is a taut 75 minute one act drama, dramatically performed by all the actors, especially newcomer, Mr Williams, in a visceral and frighteningly passionate presence as Gabriel (although, he has a tendency to shout, that mars the reception of the clarity of the work). Mr Nkono gives a sophisticated gleam to his dangerously avuncular politician in power. Ms Jombwe-Cotterill plays a patient and delicate 'game' in her character's pursuit of truth and justice, and shocks and surprises us with a 'family' confession at the end of the play, intensely given. Mr Crellin, does well with a relatively underwritten and under-motivated character.
Director, Suzanne Millar, mostly, maintains pressure to the tempo of the work, employing an effective Sound Design, by Will Newman, with the added aid of a live drum support (Alex Jalloh), and a choreographic element to the scene changes evoking the culture and recent history of Zimbabwe, that we may have conveniently forgotten or ignored. Set Design is jointly created by Suzanne Millar and John Harrison (the Set Artist, Yvette Tzaillas). Lighting Design, by Christopher Page. There are dramaturgical loose-ends in the writing but one's possible carping can be superseded by the passionate playing from the actors in the experience of the performance. The play's politics and atmosphere are entirely absorbing.
bAKEHOUSE Productions last impressed me with their choice of play with HIS MOTHER'S VOICE, with a cast of mostly Asian/Australian performers, and, again, reveal a commitment to the World Community, and to the diversity possible in Sydney, in their Storytelling endeavours, with this, mainly, of African/Australian heritage company. (Is it possible that we may see an Australian production of an August Wilson play? Check my response to the National Theatre's production of MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM).
The political nakedness of the play's concern are carried by the muscularity of the playing and is worth your attention. Put BLACK JESUS on your list to see.