03 May 2023 (released)
05 May 2023
Monique Toukou’s dynamic and heartbreaking adaptation of NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel ‘We need new names’ tells the story of Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Era through the eyes of a child. Highly physical, it expertly weaves themes of political turmoil, racism, and dual identity into a coming-age tale filled with dance, play, and humour.
We first meet our protagonist Darling, played by Lukwesa Mwamba, at home in a town ironically named ‘Paradise’. She and her friends are playing doctor with a coathanger, in order to help her traumatized 11-year-old friend Chipo get rid of the baby in her tummy, which is slowing down their childhood games. Shocking glimpses of reality through child's play is a device used throughout the performance, and the juxtaposition of innocence and the painful themes explored only makes the feeling of injustice more pertinent.
Whilst the first half sees the children dream of better lives in the Western world, the second half follows an adolescent Darling to the USA, where she begins a new life with her aunt she once only could imagine. We soon realize that this new reality is entrenched with new challenges: the desperate need to assimilate into an unfamiliar culture, whilst feeling biting guilt for leaving Zimbabwe behind. Lukwesa Mwamba portrays this duality with palpable emotion, and her steady adoption of Americanness is faultless.
Navigating so many different themes, characters, and settings is a tall feat with a 6 person cast. However thanks to a brilliant cast, Ricardo Da Silva’s dynamic choreography, and innovative set design by Ingrid Hu, it feels seamless. Accents and mannerisms change dramatically, one scene transitions to the next through dance, props steeped in cultural context signpost place and time, and clouds of white chalk signal the entrance of white characters.
Humour is used expertly throughout, coming through in the mischievous games of the children back in Zimbabwe and spot-on caricatures of American life, from relentless aerobic routines to cliche-filled proms. Often it is used to disarm the audience momentarily just before a shocking and brutal revelation. This change of tone is not only mesmerizing but sharpens the impact of these darker moments, leaving us both lost for words and enraged at the horrors at the heart of this story.
Catch ‘We Need New Names’ at Brixton House until 6 May.