Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Convert, The Gate Theatre

A note from Joelle... 
The greatest love story of all time is between the theatre and I. My heart breaks, then mends and then soars. Every. Damn. time and I cannot get enough of that feeling from watching stories on stage.
 (© Iona Firouzabadi)
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Apart from food, theatre tickets are the next biggest absorber of my money and I don’t really mind because I’m paying to feed my brain.
However, after I saw Scary Shit at The Pleasance on my birthday last year, I made a decision to break out of mainstream jazzhands-esque musicals and tap into experimental/smaller/powerful theatre this year.
My friend F sent me over a link to the show, The Convert at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and I immediately asked her to book tickets for us to attend the Young Person’s Night (tickets were a steal at just £7.50). I’m glad we did it quickly because tickets for every single night sold out within a few days.
 (© Iona Firouzabadi)
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After work (and a few glasses of prosecco), we headed to The Gate Theatre next door to the pub we were in. It’s quite easy to miss it, so I’m glad F knew where we were meant to go. Like the Pleasance, it’s super cosy with unallocated seats. This meant that we had the freedom to move around and find the perfect view of the stage. Speedy audience members who got into the theatre first were seated around the stage, allowing them to feel the stage lights and be as close to the seven actors as possible.
The staging of the play was rather simple in my view (F works in Theatre so she will know more about this than I ever will) and consisted of a cracked concrete floor and an old-fashioned sitting room. It was safe to say that I didn’t have a clue where the play was set or time period.

It’s a weird tradition of mine to book tickets to shows without reading a synopsis, reading reviews or even watching a trailer – I like new shows to be completely fresh in my eyes.
 (© Iona Firouzabadi)
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The Convert is set in 1895 Rhodesia in the living room of Chilford (play brilliantly by Stefan Adebola) an African wannabe Catholic priest who has rejected his native, African upbringing full of pagan worship. He has changed his name, accent, religion and clothes in order to fit in with the more ‘civilised’ white settlers.
His house servant Mai Tamba is an unapologetically traditional woman who refuses to give up her spiritual beliefs in favour of Catholicism. Despite Chilford’s efforts to convert her, he turns his efforts to her niece (and his new servant girl), Jekesai.
Jekasai arrives with bare breasts and no understanding of the English language, which Chilford is quick to correct. By the next few scenes, Jekasai has changed her name to Ester, now wears dresses and speaks fluent English.
Ester finds herself in a tug-of-war between her new life as a promising missionary and her old life with her family.
The white characters in the play are not physically present in the play because the play isn't about them - more about how they have left an impression on the 'savage' natives and the 'civilised' Africans who follow their Western lifestyle. I found this really cleverly written by Gurira.

I could not stop thinking about the show for days afterwards and what surprised me the most was the playwright. It's extremely tense but broken up with pockets of hilarious dialogue and gestures.
The acting was sublime - honestly stunning. It has been a while since I've seen a show where I can't fault a single thing about it. It was an honour to be in the presence of those seven actors - they blew my mind!
Although it was the Young Person's Night, the audience was a melting pot of all races, genders and ages - I love when theatre brings us all together like this.
All this time, I just automatically assumed that the person who wrote The Convert was a middle-aged East African man – I was wrong.
It was written by American actress, Danai Gurira (Michonne on The Walking Dead), who also penned the award-winning Broadway play, Eclipsed, starring Lupita Nyong’o. 

View the trailer below:

The sold-out show ends today (weeps), but I recommend buying and reading the play - it's genius.
Oh and by the way… I GOT HAMILTON TICKETS… for summer 2018, when I’m back to all the happy-clappy musicals. I just couldn’t help myself.
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