Tag Archives: Princess Khumalo

“We Need New Names” at Brixton House

The first new names in Mufaro Makubika’s adaptation of NoViolet Bulawayo’s acclaimed novel come with children playing – a group of friends take on different identities for their games. The strong theatrical conceit, performed with conviction, elevates this coming-of-age story set in Zimbabwe. And the play gets better and better.

The cast perform as youths with a girl called Darling and her friends singing, laughing, and bickering. Director Monique Touko keeps the energy high and the mood light. The action is swift with lots of movement. But these games make an audience think too as the kids come across a suicide, chase after aid, or witness violence.

Darling has a sense of hope, depicted brilliantly by Lukwesa Mwamba, that pervades the playground scenes. The prospect of a move to America, for “pizza and Rhianna”, make her different. Mwamba brings her character’s charm, petulance, and courage to the stage and is ably accompanied by five other cast members.

The play packs more punch when we see Darling in Detroit. It may be depressingly predictable that her new life is hard. But Bulawayo brings emotional insight that Makubika makes strong drama from. More music, with original compositions from Tendai Humphrey Sitima, aids immeasurably.

A pincer movement punishes Darling who has trouble fitting in with new friends while becoming estranged from life back home. Relationships with an aunt and a grandfather figure are highlights, enhancing the focus on Darling’s experiences as a woman, bringing strong performances from Princess Khumalo and Kalungi Ssebandeke.

There is pressure for Darling to change her name to something “more” American. The dilemma is heart-wrenching, especially as we watch the predicament dawn on the innocent girl. It is Mwamba’s meticulous performance that grounds the show and makes the production special. Embodying a description of the character as “sunshine”, Mwamba makes the show’s strongest moments.

Until 6 May 2023 at Brixton House and then touring until 10 June 2023

Photo by Robert Day

“A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain” at the Gate Theatre

With magical sheep whose wool makes the rain and a trip to a king’s castle, playwright Sami Ibrahim blends elements of a fairy tale with a story of immigration. The mix is productive and, benefitting from a strong production directed by Yasmin Hafesji, deserves acclaim. Just don’t get too comfortable as you settle down for this yarn.

As the Gate Theatre’s first production in its new Camden home, Hafesji enhances the intimacy of the venue. Inside, the audience is very close to the in-the-round action so a snug sense of settling down to hear a story is cleverly fostered. With several trunks that contain surprise props, Ryan Dawson Laight’s design is great, providing an air of improvisation that adds dynamism.

Samuel Tracy

But an excellent trio of actors as story tellers is the key to success here. Sara Hazemi takes the role of Elif, an illegal immigrant in a strange land, exploited but retaining dignity and independence. Princess Khumalo is her daughter (at various ages) as well as The Landowner (the least successfully written role) and is especially good at injecting some humour. Samuel Tracy plays, mostly, Elif’s suitor – a character who is, admirably, not simply her seducer. The characters are all brought to life well. The cast excels when it comes to creating the air of a story in progress – the actors bring a sense of urgency to a script that plays with timelessness.

The gravity of the story increases – after all, immigration isn’t a fairy tale. Elif’s attempts to shape narratives (past, present and future) are contradicted by other characters. There’s a sinking feeling around encounters with bureaucracy or attempts at betterment. And there are moments of frustration – including a long fantasia delivered impeccably by Hazemi- that have great energy. It isn’t Ibrahim’s fault that the play becomes predictable. Indeed, it adds weight to his argument. We expect fairy tales to have a happy ending. That this one doesn’t is a bold move.

Until 5 November 2022


Photos by Craig Fuller