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The Convert – Play Review The Convert – Play Review
4.5
The Convert – Play Review

Did you know that some of Nigeria’s Pentecostal churches have congregations reaching over 200,000 that they have be held in huge hanger like constructions or that Zimbabwe has over 560 churches alone.

 

These statistics give a sense of the magnitude of the uphill battle African spirituality faced against the all-conquering Christian army that swaggered into the heartland of this vast Continent in this new production at the Young Vic.

 

The deliciously intelligent, thought provoking yet tongue in cheek script by Zimbabwean Dani Gurria (General Okoye in Black Panther) is given a combination of zest and intellect by award winning director Ola Ince (Dutchman, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical).

 

It begins with devious Mai Tamba (Pamela Nomvete) begging the incumbent Roman Catholic priest Chilford (Paapa Essiedu) to give her relative Jekesai , later to converted to Ester(Letitia Wright), a job.

 

This is so that she will not have to return to her village to be married off to a much older man at the behest of her brother Uncle (Jude Akuwudike), whose only interest is in collecting the rich bride price for the matrimonial exchange.

 

A reluctant Chilford only agrees, on the understanding that Jekesai, completely sheds all vestiges of her African traditions and ancestry, embraces her new Christian religion to the full and must also become his protégé in converting the local population to a new and better Christian faith.

 

She sets to her task her diligently, but soon begins to questions many of the teachings of the Bible to the contrasting actions of the white settlers who are rampaging her nation, seizing land and carrying out extra-judicial killings at will.

 

Her many observations of this conflict of Biblical ideals and its reality and Chilford’s unhinging defence of the ‘White man’s word’ in the face of clear injustices is at the heart of this play. Time and time again their almost  game-like conversations laid bare the deceitfulness of the Christianity in the face what the faith teaches.

 

In a recent interview about her work playwright Danai said: “There can be distinction drawn for those who practise the Christian faith but are very much an Africanist. That is Jekesai’s issue: how does she an African connect with this faith while also seeing the hypocrisy in how it was used”.

 

With a fine supporting cast including Chancellor (Ivanno Jeremiah), as Chilford’s slimy sycophantic brother, Prudence, his long suffering fiancé (Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo) and Jekesai’s hot headed young cousin Tamba (Rudolphe Mdlongwa) the action moves along swiftly despite the length of the production.

 

The destructive power of the settlers in never away, it’s in the gestures, words, facesand  actions of the Africans, despite the fact we never see a single white person. There is a sense that this clash of invaders versus resistors will inevitably leads to death, destruction and bloody revenge. All the above ensue,  resulting in Jekesai in the last act asking Chilford for absolution for the horrifying crime she commits.

 

This is thoroughly absorbing and deeply complex drama. Letitia Wright is spell binding, initially deeply naïve but as the play progresses her real strength and steel begins to pierce the solid but slowly crumbling armour of Chilford, who despite his denial has never forgotten his African roots that Catholicism and colonialism is bent on beating out.

 

The damaging long lasting psychological effects of imperialism, such as how people can be incapacitated if they are not taught about themselves or allowed to gain an understanding of their belonging or ancestry is also intelligently explored.

 

With an intriguing set design by Naomi Dawson of a mesh cube that encapsulates the actors and lifts to free to them to explore the stage and brooding lighting by Bruno Poety to give that sense of reverence and foreboding there is little to fault this brave production.

 

A light is shone on the often oversimplified but very complicated relationship between Africans and Christianity. At its essence it asks is it possible to practise Christianity and be deeply African at the same time? If so, what does being an African truly mean, if you strip away his African spirituality and practices from his consciousness and ways of life?

 

The Convert, 7 Dec-26 Jan, The Young Vic, SE1 8LZ , £10-£40 Visit https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/the-convert for further details.

 

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