Gavino di Vino’s Hackney Gospels is a comedic insight into the life of an African immigrant family. The play focuses on a highly religious mother and her frustration caused by her conflicting identities and her mixed race gay son.
The solo play opens with the bold pan-African mother (Gavino di Vino) donning colourful traditional garments and telling the women in the audience: “An aunty is any woman over 40 who is willing to beat their child. Are you willing to beat a child?”
These first few lines set the tone of the piece; it is humorous, yet the story is somewhat tragic. The narrative follows an African mother (Auntie) who is unhappily married, and gains a job in her local Hilton Hotel. She falls pregnant with an English guest from Liverpool and moves to England with a dream of living in an estate much like Queen Elizabeth and Lady Diana. Unfortunately, the realities of Liverpool are far from her ideals, and she expresses disdain at the likes of Greggs and fish and chip shops. Auntie then decides to move to Dalston, London to raise her son. The play takes the form of two monologues, the former from Auntie and the latter from her homosexual son, Mtoto.
As Auntie, Di Vino has a witty sharp delivery which, when coupled with his strong gestural physicality, a fusion of languages as well as a thick African accent (of which di Vino himself said that he modelled off Nigerian Films), creates a story that one can thoroughly enjoy even with the limitations of a minimalistic set.
During Mtoto’s monologue, the audience gains a glimpse into Mtoto’s life (who refers to himself as Totes) and we understand a little of what it is like to be a minority within a minority. Totes, much unlike his mother, has seemingly adjusted to his life in East London. His colourful attire in some aspects mirrors Auntie’s clothes, even though he says that she looks like a drag queen with matching lipstick, eyeshadow and clothes. The writing is intelligent; Mtoto throws quality shade at his mother whilst the audience simultaneously understands the deeper undertones of his first line: “Do you think I can pass [for a straight man]?”
This is the first rehearsed reading of Hackney Gospels and the running time is just a bite sized twenty minutes. Di Vino himself afterwards jokes that having a reviewer for the first performance is ambitious, however, it is admirable. Auntie’s character is well written; however, it is clear that this is a scratch performance.
As Di Vino continues with additional performances of the show, I hope he will more fully embrace interacting with the audience as this is what the very inviting performance space of Ziferblat allows. It would also be beneficial to explore nuances within the characterisation. Additionally, I am sure with further performances Di Vino will become even more physically encompassing of the space.
Hackney Gospels is exemplary of what new writing should be. It takes risks by conveying a viewpoint that is not yet explored in the mainstream and it displays a first generation migrant family dealing with the conflicting topics of homosexuality and religion. The play has an abrupt ending, and we leave wanting to see more. I eagerly await the full production.