After an insightful interview with Kurt Egyiawan about his character Chidhina in The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco [read here], I was looking forward to seeing how the politically based drama piece would be portrayed on stage. Written by Andrew Whaley and directed by Elayce Ismail, the play explores the disappointments and struggles following Zimbabwe’s independence.
Set in Zimbabwe 1986, the story follows Jungle (Gary Beadle), Chidhina and Febi (Joan Iyiola) who after a night out are arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour. Whilst in their prison cell and getting used to their surroundings, their cohabitation is unsettled by the arrival of a fourth prisoner. Mysterious in sight and sound, they begin to unravel and understand the origins of Comrade Fiasco (Abdul Salis). Claiming to be a freedom fighter who has spent the past seven years in a cave; unaware that the war is over and Zimbabwe has made its transition to post-colonial independence. The others however are sceptical in believing whether this is true and in an attempt to figure out whether Fiasco was a fighter on their side or an enemy, the three prisoners use their time to create various forms of role-play while revealing their own hopes and cynical thoughts of enduring life pre and post-independence.
With the focal point on the set up of a prison cell in a very intimate stage space, the characters utilise this well when it comes to their role-play. There are no set changes but the script along with the character’s actions meet well in transforming from scene to scene. Their interaction with each other does not feel over thought as they forget their surroundings and become playful with one another through their stories and thoughts. Whaley does well (whether this is deliberate or not) in not making this a play about Zimbabwe, Mugabe and dictatorship, but by concentrating on the emotional effects and corruption these citizens have had to live with after being sold the dream that the fight for their country would benefit them in reaping the rewards.
Egyiawan plays Chidhina with such depth that you almost forget he is meant to be about 17/18 years of age. His disappointment as a young man and a fighter who’s hopes and dreams of a better future were dashed in front of his eyes, is only more exaggerated and explicitly felt when Egyiawan delivers a melancholy speech with such detail of the frontline, spilt blood and world of bureaucracy that are the consequences of his shattered dreams and freedom. Egyiawan does so with such suffering and rage in his voice that you can’t help but leave the theatre with his speech lingering in your thoughts.
Beadle and Iyiola both come into their own with their characters adding to the role playing and trying to understand what is going on, however it would have been interesting to find out more about their background, their story and what led them to being arrested. Their significant portrayal of being united with Chidhina on their disappointment and having hope for the future is conveyed in very different, yet familiar ways; humour and attitude, which could have been studied on an advanced scale.
Yet it was the mystery of Fiasco that kept the audience guessing as to why and how he would play a part in the three other prisoner’s lives. Abdul Salis may not have had much to say in terms of dialogue, but it was his confused mumblings, recollection on his activities and symbolic movement of becoming ‘reborn’ that conveyed and could be interpreted that he was the illusionary representation of the memories lost and future principles of the prisoners as he tried to ironically recapture his freedom.
It is clear that the cast and creative team have worked extremely hard with limited stage space, yet the four-piece cast do not let this hinder them and in fact use all space available to their advantage adding depth to their motions and their characters’ mannerisms. Whaley is able to explore a touchy subject with issues and history relating to the past and present, but does not use it as a ‘blame game’ but more of a platform to explore the suffering, memories and social living of citizens forgotten hence creating an emotional piece of theatre.
The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco runs until 21st March 2015. For more information and to book tickets, please go to the Gate Theatre website.