Friday, 7 March 2008

Breakfast with Mugabe at the Ustinov

To see Breakfast with Mugabe, Fraser Grace's play (first shown at the RSC in 2005) in the newly refurbished Ustinov Theatre in Bath. It is a very fine production which worked well in the small theatre. Based on a reported incident in 2001 when Robert Mugabe was supposed to have turned to a white psychiatrist for help, the play imagines what happens with eminent and liberal-minded psychiatrist Andrew Peric (played with aplomb by Miles Anderson) meets the President (a fine and convincing performance by Nicholas Bailey, pictured), with his second wife Grace (Andi Osho) and ice-cool secret service bodyguard, Gabriel (Joseph Marcell) entertaining Peric as the President is late for his appointments. Set against the background of the 2002 elections, the play explores the ngozi - Shona demons - that haunt Mugabe. He is particularly troubled by Josiah Tongogara, the man destined to be Zimbabwe's first president who died in a mysterious car crash (that many believe was engineered by Mugabe) shortly after the Lancaster House talks in 1979. Had he lived, he would probably have led a more conciliatory course for the country, keeping Mugabe in check. (His replacement Rev Canaan Banana was an ineffectual check on Mugabe and later forced into exile having been charged with sodomy). The play also brings out the contradictions and tensions of the increasingly racially charged land confiscations and the conflicting emotions of a liberal white opponent of Ian Smith's racist regime. This taut, believable production is an excellent start for the new Ustinov. As for the theatre itself, if the refit has cost £1.5 million as Venue suggests this week, it is hard to see where the money has gone: there is a trendy bar, slightly better stage, new (but less comfortable) seating and a new balcony, with more space at the back for lighting and technical wizardry. But it is hard to treat seriously the ludicrous suggestion made in the programme that it is a 'major architectural re-invention.' It was a good second theatre for Bath before the refit, and remains one, despite the 're-inventions.' The play continues until 22 March.

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