“I decided who would be saved and who would be condemned. I took that responsibility for others and now I take it for myself”
The investigation of war crimes in Africa has already had one intriguing exploration on London’s stages this year in the excellent A Human Being Died That Night at the Hampstead but where that play focused on South Africa, Anders Lustgarten’s Black Jesus looks at contemporary Zimbabwe, the damage that Robert Mugabe’s regime has inflicted, and the possibilities of reaching any kind of resolution when the scars of conflict cut so deep.
It is set in the near future, where a Truth and Justice Commission has been set up to explore the crimes of the past. Eunice Ncube (the excellent Debbie Korley) is tasked with interviewing Gabriel (Paapa Essiedu, in a rich vein of form at the moment) one of the key members of a brutal youth militia movement called the Green Bombers, who crushed untold enemies with violence and remains a thoroughly intimidating figure.
What Lustgarten identifies though is that none of this happens in a vacuum. The politics of a country that simultaneously needs to deal with the past, yet also get on everyday business, is densely complex, especially when almost everyone concerned has their own connections to what happened and in the form of the oleaginous civil servant Moyo (Cyril Nri also very strong), the necessity of compromise – however much it sticks in the craw – is made real.
The play is dense, very wordy in places and assumes a certain amount of knowledge about the situation in Zimbabwe, but it is refreshing to see such an overtly political playwright as Lustgarten challenging his audiences so thoroughly but with a succinct clarity that means its short running time feels just right. I was glad to have managed to sneak in to see this in its last week but I wish I’d seen it earlier so I could have recommended y’all went too!