“Why must your wound be healed by wounding me?”
The Papatango Theatre Company have long been at the forefront of new writing with their annual prize competition always one to look out for and now they’re expanding their territory, premiering a new piece from their first Resident Playwright here at the Arcola. Edinburgh-born May Sumbwanyambe’s family hails from right across Southern Africa and it is there, specifically, Zimbabwe, to which he has turned for After Independence.
Set at the end of the last century when a majority black government first came to power in Harare, the play circles the contentious issue of land grabs, as white farmers and landowners have their property redistributed – sometimes forcefully – to the black population. But though their claims look to the future, they deny the past of a population who consider themselves just as African, and thus the horns of a terrible dilemma present themselves.
In the midst of Max Dorey’s imaginative sun-bleached design, Stefan Adegbola’s government man Mr Charles thus does battle with Peter Guinness’ aching old soul and a fearsome Beatriz Romilly as his much more exercised daughter Chipo. The scenes tend to play out as two-handers in a remarkably even-handed manner, demonstrating the impossibility of the situation – generations of hurt on both sides, no easy answers in sight.
The result is powerfully compelling and surprisingly subtle, Richard Hammarton’s ominous sound design building a world of tension, but one which isn’t quite delivered dramatically. The technical side of Sumbwanyambe’s construction allows for great debate but not enough drama, to both elevate and elucidate its thematic concerns. That said, it’s still an impressive debut and yet another string to Papatango’s mightily impressive bow.