Black Lover - Review

Review by Amanda Jackson for Theatreview 

Playwright Stanley Makuwe’s Black Lover is set in the mid 1960s, at the time Garfield Todd was under house arrest in Rhodesia. In every respect is disturbingly topical and could equally be set today, in other places of the world. Subtle links between what is now Zimbabwe and our own experiences of colonisation in Aotearoa are explored in the conversations between the two characters, Steady (Simbarashe Matshe) and Garfield Todd (Cameron Rhodes). 

Against an historical background, Black Lover explores not only what happened during the ousting of Garfield Todd in Rhodesia, and how volatile the conditions were when it happened, but also how little progress has been made in the political and social spheres of countries still troubled by racism and effects of colonisation. We don’t have to look far afield to recognise the precarious human condition in the themes that play out in contemporary society all around the world and which are represented on stage. That impact, in itself, is startling.

Scenes of sweet domesticity and subservience with dollops of humour contrast with moments of anger in a sudden escalation that is shocking. Swift shifts from trust to indignation, as the overwhelming evidence of prejudice threatens to go out of control, fuelled by the horror of witnessed atrocities, are skilfully performed by both actors as the power changes hands, when kindness turns to fear and trust to vengeance. Incredibly, all of this unfolds in a household, distilling in miniature what was and is a problem of gigantic proportion. The production is skilful and coherent, illustrative and engaging, and all the nuances of theatre come together in a tense, funny, brilliantly political narrative.

The set (Rachael Walker) is simple and clever, reflecting the bewitching colours of an African sky in a peaceful sitting room that does nothing to indicate the depth of drama that will be played out. The lighting (Rachel Marlow) sucks the warmth from the stage as the mood changes.

Matshe has the energy of an athlete, radiating exuberance and fun, explosive in his sudden change. Rhodes is the tired, beaten and benevolent Todd, frustration and sorrow weighing heavily in his posture.

Director Roy Ward has directed a powerful play that has an awful lot to say without being didactic or unnecessarily theatrical and the ominous soundscape (Sean Lynch) adds an element of foreboding and chill.

A thoroughly unforgettable night.


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