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After Independence, Arcola Theatre, review: ‘Echoes of Chekhov’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 11 May 2016

Stefan Adegbola and Peter Guinness in After Independence. Picture: Richard Lakos

Stefan Adegbola and Peter Guinness in After Independence. Picture: Richard Lakos

Archant

This beautifully crafted play is about the rights and injustices of the seizure of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe by war veterans.

Vast tracts of Zimbabwe’s most fertile land have been owned for centuries by the white settlers and their descendents who know no other home. After independence, which seemed to promise so much, black people remain poor and landless. Don’t they have rights too? White minority rule didn’t work but black majority rule isn’t either. Max Dorey’s elegantly minimalist set combining a farm interior and exterior, provides a quiet background to the turbulent flow of human emotions as four people argue with passion, rage, claim and counter-claim.

They are the mother, father and daughter who live on the farm, and the black civil servant compelling them to sell it.

Four consummate actors give impeccable performances, the dialogue never flags and the audience’s attention is absolute.

Kathleen, the mother, sensitively played by Sandra Duncan, is clear-thinking and insightful, but, as a woman, has no voice. Her opinion is never consulted, her situation compared with that of black people: she is consequently frustrated and depressed. Sensitively played by Sandra Duncan, she’s at once the strongest and the most helpless. Daughter, Chico, hates her mother and makes no secret of it.

Played by Sandra Dunn with extraordinary aggression and energy, she believes, like her father, that to be strong is everything. Right, she is certain, is on their side.

As father Guy, Peter Guinness plays has huge presence and authority, undermined by the secret knowledge of his weakness, physical and psychological.

Stefan Adegbola, as Charles, has the most difficult task of portraying a naturally kindly and tolerant man convinced of the absolute necessity of his task.

He is all too aware of the obduracy and the suffering of the whites. However, in the great scheme of things, the land belongs to no-one. People come and go, cultivate it or let it go.

The rage and suffering of human beings is as nothing.

George Turvey directs with impeccable timing and understanding, supported by Richard Hammetton’s menacing sound design, the play reaches its inevitable depressing conclusion.

However, Chico’s final speech expresses hope for Zimbabwe’s future and for all humanity. Not for the first time during the evening, I heard echoes of Chekhov.

After Independence is at the Arcola Theatre.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

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