Saturday, 7 March 2015

Theatre review: The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco

Set in 1986, in a Zimbabwe still finding its post-independence feet, Andrew Whaley's The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco is set in a police station cell in the middle of the night. Getting aggressive with the police has landed Chidhina (Kurt Egyiawan,) Jungle (Gary Beadle) and Febi (Joan Iyiola) in here, and they're bickering their way through the night when a fourth prisoner materialises, seemingly out of nowhere. Ragged, wrapped in a tattered blanket and looking confused and afraid, he initially doesn't speak but it eventually comes out that Comrade Fiasco (Abdul Salis) was a freedom-fighter in the late 1970s. Hiding in a mountain cave for safety, he ended up losing track of time and only being discovered eight years later. By the time he rejoined the world the independence he was fighting for had been achieved, and the Zimbabwe he now sees isn't the one he knew.

It isn't, of course, the country he imagined he was fighting for either. After having lived through the difficult first years of independence, Chidhina in particular isn't happy to have this reminder of the idealistic country he once believed they could create.

Designer Rosanna Vize has made the central jail cell a raised cage whose walls and ceiling are a climbing frame of bars - and director Elayce Ismail has her cast frequently use it like that, letting them loose on the bars in an energetic and dynamic production - it's just a shame the play itself doesn't come anywhere near to deserving it.

Whaley's storytelling structure is a playful, metatheatrical one - Chidhina opens his narration by admitting a woman in the cell with the men seems unlikely, but he included Febi there to balance out his and Jungle's clashing personalities. But once the characters start taking on, in flashback, the roles of the children who found Fiasco in his cave, the storytelling becomes tangled up, the writer's point muddled, and the whole thing downright dull.

The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco starts very well, with a lively, funny introduction to the characters, although the actors' charm is a significant factor in this. It also builds to a powerful conclusion, Fiasco going through a symbolic rebirth that's cleverly staged. But in between the play trips over itself and, in contrast to Fiasco losing track of time in his cave, feels a lot longer than its 90 minutes.

The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco by Andrew Whaley is booking until the 21st of March at the Gate Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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