Danai Gurira’s The Convert is a Christmas treat of a different order at the Young Vic Theatre
“Gracious to goodness”
There’s all sorts of lovely connections here. Danai Gurira’s play The Convert was first seen in the UK at the Gate last year, a theatre where her earlier drama Eclipsed was produced in 2015. That play starred Letitia Wright in an astonishing performance and Wright now appears in this new version of The Convert at the Young Vic – Wright and Gurira having starred in some little arthouse film called Black Panther in the meantime…
It’s a cracking good play too, worth the attention of this second production. Set in 1896 Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe), it looks at the ways in which colonial rulers sought to erase African cultural identities through any means they saw fit. Culturally, religiously, linguistically, their tools of ‘progress’ were wielded with considerable force and Gurira counts up the cost with a slow-building dramatic flair.
Taken at age 9, Ndovlu is a success for them. Now known as Chilford, this devout Catholic priest has taken the duties of converting others most seriously and in the shape of his housekeeper’s niece Jekesai, he has the ideal new recruit. But as the newly christened Ester throws herself entirely into her new life, the conflict between natives and interlopers (of any types) becomes more and more acute.
Ola Ince’s production is highly atmospheric and as realised in Naomi Dawson’s design, beautiful to look at. Set in the round with walls of gauze, there’s a crucial intimacy which sucks you right into the deep intensity of the world created here. Wright and Paapa Essiedu are both excellent as the leads, and Ivanno Jeremiah’s unprincipled Chancellor is most vivid. A Christmas treat of a different order.