Lamentations: the songs of grief, mourning or despair. And yet, the songs in this Zimbabwean play by Rooftop Promotions at first don't seem such. They are children's play songs; they are songs of liberation and rebellion; they are religious hymns. But what this trio are able to do is to transform them. They become hymns for a land which held so much promise, but squandered it with violence, rape and the cultural devastation of childhood marriage.
Cast members Getrude Vimbayi Munhamo (who wrote the piece) and Dalma Chiwereva guide us through a recent history of their nation, laying bare the structures of oppression and control. It's a neat, small-scale staging. The pair delineate characters well, a highlight being Chiwereva's wild-eyed, charismatic and brutal military commander.
They are well supported by percussionist Lewis Ndlovu offstage, whose beats serve to site the piece, but also punctuate key moments and movements – a nod to artifice which works well to remind us that we are at one remove from the rotting bodies shown in historical footage. Dialogue is sometimes a bit expositional, though the mix of English, Shona and Ndebele feels real and does nothing to hinder communication.
An interesting aside, and one which points to a need to recognise that international arts means more than a simple thrill of our festival having representation from so far afield: do we really all see theatre through the same eyes? Speaking to the director Daves Guzha after the show I wonder whether this is recieved differently in Zimbabwe, where the violence and corruption remains an open sore. Absolutely, he says. It's used as an educational tool and a springboard for discussion where bureaucratic methods simply won't do. In purely theatrical terms, this is a good show. But for those with skin in the game this has the potential to be much more powerful.