Mugabe, My Dad & Me - coming to the Traverse from Wed 23 - Sat 26 Mar - charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century through the personal story of writer and performer Tonderai Munyevu’s family and his relationship with his father.
Interspersing storytelling, live music from a Gwenyambira (a female mbira player) and some of Mugabe’s most unapologetic speeches, this high-voltage one man show is a blistering exploration of familial love, identity and what it means to return ‘home’.
In the first 10 Questions edition of 2022, Tonderai tells us about the presence of music in the show, the history which informed it, and his hopes for the future...
1. What inspired this play, and why is it an important story to be told right now?
Really thinking about coming of age as a Zimbabwean person in the diaspora. In 2017 Mugabe was disposed, I thought it would be a seminal moment for the country that would change everything. I panicked that I wasn’t there and I started asking questions, the questions became bigger and bigger, and deeper and deeper--taking me back to histories and perspectives I just had not thought about. Its a story for now because more than ever, we need to discuss our shared histories and the complexities that come with it. Its not about blame, its about understanding.
2. This play deals with some very complicated and emotive topics, and is deeply personal. How do you go about writing a story which is so close to you, and how does it feel to perform it so often?
Its very challenging to perform as one feels a bit on the line. Will the people like it? Will they agree with what it is I am saying? In normal circumstances as an actor you don’t feel that your character is in any danger in their own lives beyond the stage whereas I do fear there maybe consequences to what I am saying and how I am saying it. In terms of writing, I said to myself that I would write the truth as I found it and as I knew it, and edit later. In the end, the bits I wanted to edit out became the best bits in the work, so I kept them! As writers we are always more compelled with the truth than anything else. The actor in me had to live up to the writer in me!
3. The staging and set are incredibly impactful – can you tell us what is represents and how it helps you to tell your story?
The set is one of my favourite things I have ever experienced in the theatre. Nicolai Hart designed it. He can tell you more I about it. From my perspective, the set represents those that have been a part of my life, those still living and in the ancestral realm. As i'm on stage it changes, from being a heroes acre to conjuring up the Spice Girls to being in rural Zimbabwe with my aunt. Its an amazing set.
4. The show features a live music from an onstage Gwenyambira – how did that come about, and what does it add to the show?
As a show focusing on three men I felt it needed a very strong female presence. Millie is that. The music she plays goes to the heart of what it means to Zimbabwean. The mbira for me stands for land, blood, inheritance, land and so forth. Millie’s playing and the sound of the mbira is the highlight of the show.
5. How do you hope audiences feel having watched the show, or what actions do you hope that they might take?
To be considerate of the histories that we share. To also be willing to have a conversation that might make them feel uncomfortable but ultimately could be very healing.
6. What are your hopes for the future of Zimbabwe?
A true independence, a true freedom in which all its citizens are free to participate in what happens to them. For Zimbabwe to be a country that welcomes everyone back home so we build on all of our history, and what we have learnt from home and abroad.
7. If you had to describe Mugabe, My Dad & Me in 3 words, what would they be?
Deep, love, music
8. How does it feel to have this work performed at the Traverse?
I am thrilled. I have always admired the Traverse, its writers and its audiences. An impeccable reputation for storytelling. I am so so honoured.
9. What are your favourite Edinburgh haunts?
The Traverse! The galleries! And lots and lots of walking!
10. What’s the best piece of advice you think you’ve been given, either as a writer or performer?
"Be vulnerable," and the eternal classic “Be yourself,” everyone is an original, right?