Thursday, 8 August 2013

Theatre review: The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo

This year's recurring meme of hefty play titles makes its next appearance at the Tricycle, where Lucian Msamati directs a new play by Denton Chikura, The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo. The setting is Zimbabwe, where a fable for the ages is waiting to be told and the narrator, bad guy and romantic interest are present and correct. Unfortunately the story is stalled because it lacks a protagonist and, egged on by mysterious and somewhat threatening voices, the Narrator (Don Gilet) is desperate to find one. When the goatherd Nhamo (Ery Nzaramba) wanders out of the bush looking for an escaped goat, he's pressed into service but is found severely lacking, and the tale by necessity becomes an origin story, to turn him from zero to hero - all in the silliest way possible.

This isn't so much a comic deconstruction of storytelling convention as it is a wild riff on it. The menacing Commander Specimen (Nyasha Hatendi) is actually a bombastic thesp who'll tell anyone who stands still long enough all about his Method, while the aloof Chipo (Tanya Fear) isn't shy of aiming criticism at the amateur hero they've been lumbered with; but soon enough they both end up getting sucked into the story and the roles they were created to play.


The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo is one of the more ridiculous shows you're likely ot see in London at the moment, and at the start Msamati's production looks like it might misjudge how far to take this, and that we might be in for 90 minutes of embarrassing mugging. Fortunately these initial fears are, for the most part, unfounded. Chikura's writing throws a non-stop barrage of pop-culture references at the story, from Shakespeare to Bonnie Tyler, Halle Berry to The A Team, and a whole raft of fairytale princesses, whose possession of a better narrative has given them the starring roles in Disney movies that Chipo thinks should rightly have been hers. And with the sheer amount of absurdities and incongruities thrown at the apparently traditional tale, an impressive amount of the jokes land.


And it's hard not to root for the performers - Hatendi's Commander Specimen has a Bottom-like enthusiasm for playing as many parts as possible, in contrast to Fear's chillier Chipo, with her poker-faced puncturing of mythology's conventions. Gilet hams it up a bit to start with but settles into his out-of-place, posh narrator with a touch of the snake-oil salesman. And in the title role Nzaramba stumbles through the silliness he's been dropped in the middle of with an admirably straight face. Though written with a knowing cleverness this is at heart an endearingly simple, fun and funny piece that loves stories and the process of telling them.

The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and His Sexy Wife Chipo by Denton Chikura is booking until the 24th of August at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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