A play that celebrates the life of First Chimurenga heroes Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi is set to premiere at the upcoming Harare International Festival of Arts (HIFA).
Written by acclaimed local playwright Blessing Hungwe, Lovers In Time features celebrated artists including actor and stand-up comedian Michael Kudakwashe of Zambezi News, Chikwata 263’s Tomas Brickhill and Mafriq‘s Pauline Gundidza as well as Lovedale Makalanga a.k.a Discord. The play is directed by Dr Agnieszka Piotrowska, a leading academic at the University of Bedfordshire. She is also celebrated in the film and theatre industry.
Gundidza said, “It is an astonishing and bold move to be taking on such a sensitive story and somehow making it into a tale of a possibility of reconciliation – the race issues are still a huge taboo in Zimbabwe.” Gundidza also alluded to the role of theatre as an element within Zimbabwe’s oral tradition and the important role this plays in preserving history.
Lovers In Time is a comic tale of liberation war heroes who travel back and forth in time. As Nehanda faces execution at the hand of the native white commissioner, she prays to be spared her life and be reunited with Kaguvi. The ancestors grant her the wish but find humour in sending her into a new century in a male body but donned with traditional female clothing. She lands in a place where her name is long forgotten and her legacy all but lost. In confusion about where she is and how she is male, a female police officer comes to arrest her. Shock! It’s Kaguvi. The two’s spirits reconnect.
After praying again the spirit of Nehanda is sent back in time to moments before her execution. She then convinces the executors to rewrite history and set her free for the good of future generations. Another twist to the story comes when the spirits of Nehanda and Kaguvi come back as white people. Dr Piotrowska explains, “The play is a humorous twist of history based on ‘what ifs’”. She says the played is not designed to mock the roles of the liberation heroes but rather to preserve their names.
Kudakwashe who plays the male Nehanda says, “It is challenging to play such a role but it’s a challenge I embraced and enjoyed.” He said the humorous part of the play makes it interesting to all those who find history dull, “With comedy you can capture a lot of interest from different people thus preserving history.”
Brickhill plays both the native white commissioner and the white Nehanda. He said,“As a white person one is expected to play the oppressive Rhodesian which is easier but playing Nehanda is very challenging and interesting.” He believes that it is important to keep on presenting history using fresh concepts to keep interest on the story.
The production is supported by the University of Bedfordshire and the Zimbabwe Theatre Association. It is the first time that the Zimbabwe Theatre Association has directly supported a production directed and initiated by a British practitioner.
Dr Piotrowska is an award winning filmmaker and the leader of the innovative courses at the University of Bedfordshire (MA of Creative Digital Production and MSc of Digital Production and Technology). She will be making an experimental drama documentary connected to the play. “It is a great privilege to be given a chance to explore history through theatre and film,” she said.
Mbuya Nehanda is a celebrated heroine of the first Chimurenga. She was executed by white settlers for her role in rallying oppressed natives into an uprising in 1896.
Check the HIFA program on www.hifa.co.zw for more information on dates, time and price of the play.