Based on the memoirs of Jack Mapanje, this new play, written and directed by Kate Stafford, tells the story of the poet and political prisoner's arrest and imprisonment by his government in 1980s Malawi.
A recorded narrative at the start gives the audience a little background into the play's history, but it is difficult to grasp some of the events without a prior knowledge of Malawian political history. However, it is the portrayal of Mapanje's family, and their strength through this nightmare of brutality without reason or answers, that really shines.
Although the cast's grip on the script wavers occasionally, the acting is believable and passionate. Despite the dark, painful story, there are moments of humour and camaraderie that break through the fear and cruelty that is ever present in this intimate setting.
The audience is forcefully drawn into the action of the play by the layout of the performance space, and continual eye contact with the cast makes us feel an urgent empathy with Mapanje and his fellow prisoners' attempts to remain human in captivity. Misheck Mzumara's depiction of Mapanje flashes with a desperate, earnest charm that brings the character to life wonderfully.
A play that is poetry, drama and history lesson combined, this is a frank presentation of the fate many prisoners shared in Malawi through one man's experiences, which bursts into moments of shocking frustration and touching humanity.
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