As an avid reader, not every book I read leaves a lasting impression on me. ‘We Need New Names’ by NoViolet Bulawayo is one such book. But the play adaptation by Mufaro Makubika and the range of acting by the brilliant cast took me through such a range of emotions that this play will certainly be one I won’t forget in a hurry!
Although the actual stage set was no more than that of a small studio flat space, the play took us on a journey across time and continents in a way that made me feel as if I was literally transported out of my seat. The play starts with a very high energy and mildly chaotic re-enactment of the characters as young children playing in a rural setting in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Seeing the politics of that time and the devastation of the AIDs health crisis through seemingly children’s eyes makes it even more sad yet wildly comical.
“But my favourite of the night was Munashe Chirisahe who’s over the top portrayal of Bonefree had the entire audience in raptures of laughter”!
Darling, played by Lukwesa Mwamba, is such a force of nature that I cannot wait to see her star shine further. But my favourite of the night was Munashe Chirisahe who’s over the top portrayal of Bonefree had the entire audience in raptures of laughter! He fully won me over as TK, the cousin who initially teases Darling for being too ‘African’ shortly after arrival in the United States but grows up to become a more assured young man who becomes her closest ally.
And whilst the mental health advocate in me blister by the lack of trigger warning of the very dark themes explored in the play including child sexual assault, death by suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst others, this discomfort felt heightened by the inappropriate laughter by some members of the audience.
This is a play that anyone who has had the experience of having to leave home, either willingly or otherwise, for ‘greener pastures’ only to get to the West and find the streets aren’t full of trees with dollars to be plucked, can fully relate to. The narrative about the impact of the ‘Black Tax’ on economically migrants who very quickly realise that “you are not just working for yourself but for EVERYONE” was also not lost to me.
I also enjoyed the telephone calls back home. How teenage Darling could hardly wait to get off the call with her mum but still, they are the first she calls when she loses a man who “was like my grandfather”. These moments allowed us to see the impact of Darling leaving, not just on her immediate family but also with the friends she left behind.
“The range of acting by the brilliant cast took me through such a range of emotions that this play will certainly be one I won’t forget in a hurry!”
This is a deeply nuanced story about identity and how it is shaped by factors outside our control, which side of the Atlantic a person is born in and how accessible the other sides are to one. It is a play about feeling stuck whilst also wanting to belong, even when you find yourself in a place that is a home away from home.
It is about how our names keep us grounded and rooted in the past whilst paving the way ahead for a brighter future. Ultimately, for me, the key message and takeaway from this adaptation, wonderfully directed by Monique Touko, is how we each just want to be seen in all our wonderful glory and not be limited by the impositions others put on us simply by how we look or where we were born.