The Swallowing Dark
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Scenes of Robert Mugabe’s rule, as he addresses a thronging population, are projected against a decaying plaster wall. It is such scenes that prompted Zimbabwean Canaan to escape to Britain with his son. But Canaan’s refugee status is now under review and, if he is to avoid returning home, he must retell his story and revisit the horrors he once fled. Care worker Martha must extract the truth from the frightened and angry Canaan.
Lizzie Nunnery’s new play, ‘The Swallowing Dark’, centres on a series of interviews between the two, as they dance gingerly around some dark home truths. It is a neat but slightly brittle concept and Paul Robinson’s production, despite some elegant use of projections, begins to flatten out.
There is a lot of shouting and confrontation but few softer moments, except some brief flashbacks between Canaan and his now dead wife. The atmosphere is relentlessly fraught, as Canaan blazes with white-hot righteous anger in response to Martha’s stubborn and systematic questioning.
Wil Johnson captivates as Canaan, who throbs with past but unforgotten violence. It is as if he carries Zimbabwe’s troubled history in his own, hunched body; he does not walk but marches, does not talk but wails, does not touch but snatches.
Allyson Ava-Brown is convincingly conflicted as Martha but the relationship between the two, so pivotal in such a tight-knit play, never really develops beyond the professional.
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