Anders Lustgarten is a vigorously political playwright who’s been honing his talent at the Finborough with plays such as ‘A Day at the Racists’. He also recently had an amusing piece of agitprop on the Royal Court’s main stage – ‘If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep’. What’s fascinating about his latest work is his ability to probe the shocking subject of political violence in Zimbabwe and tease out the psychological and political threads that sustain it.
His story is set in 2015 and follows a woman, Eunice, interviewing a militia leader for a Zimbabwean truth and reconciliation committee. The man, Gabriel, is known as Black Jesus because he would decide which of his victims would be saved and which condemned. Now he’s in jail, Eunice refuses to be menaced by his threats and comes to understand how he is being used as a political scapegoat now as surely as he was when he was killing for politicians.
Despite the subject matter, the play lacks the crusading vim of Lustgarten’s Royal Court play. It does however sling good red meat to the actors. As Eunice, Debbie Korley is a sparrowish but plucky investigator determined to overcome her cosy worldview fostered in Harare’s suburbs. Paapa Essiedu’s Gabriel turns from sweaty, popeyed psychopath to a man shocked to see how he’s been used. Alexander Gatehouse adds perspective as a white civil servant, while Cyril Nri is an ebulliently cynical government minister.
David Mercatali’s production is forensically focused, with Max Dorey’s design setting the action in a clammy interview room stacked with scruffy files and chipped furniture. It does have a slightly documentary feel and might benefit from taking more of a stance. If Lustgarten does one day match his research with his polemics, he’ll surely set the stage ablaze.
By Patrick Marmion