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After Independence review at the Arcola, London – ‘a promising debut’

Stefan Adegbola in After Independence at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Richard Lakos Stefan Adegbola in After Independence at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Richard Lakos
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A man from the government is trying to force a family to sell their farm – to leave Zimbabwe. He isn’t the first to come since Zimbabwe’s black majority government came to power, but he will be the last. The white farm owners, Guy, Kathleen, and their daughter Chipo have seen their neighbours intimidated and attacked and bought out, and now their farm, Independence, is all that is left, fenced in by the government, supposedly for their own protection.

After Independence is the full-length debut from May Sumbwanyambe, the first Papatango Resident Playwright. The set-up is intriguing – a fight over land, with undeniable claims on both sides, and appeals to both the country’s past and its future. Set amongst the sun-bleached buildings of an isolated farm – an expansive, dusty design from Max Dorey – with a difficult choice to be made by a stalwart patriarch, it promise the ruminative, heightened quality of an Arthur Miller play.

A little light on plot, the text has a tendency towards melodramatic reveals as the presence of the black Mr Charles from the government itches at the family. When a crisis is finally reached, Sumbwanyambe defuses rather than ignites the potential ugliness in the premise – and the hundreds of black farm hands, though mentioned, don’t get a look in.

With strong performances – especially from Peter Guinness as the ailing white farmer – this is a beautiful production of a promising debut but it needs a little more action to involve us in its most interesting possibilities.

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Evocative production of an intriguing debut play that summons up Zimbabwe’s over-trodden histories