The programme for The Rain That Washes contains a timeline of events in Zimbabwe. There, next to the credits and biographies, sits a near 100 year historical recap of the events in this torn country. Robert Mugabe, guerrilla war, mass murder. This context allows the audience to understand where this performance is coming from, and what the implications of it is. It anchors the plot, and allows for the storytelling to not be inhibited by a lack of audience awareness. But it also sets the tone for the next 70 minutes. Chickenshed Theatre has created a quite remarkable piece of work. Inspired by real life events, it both tells the tale of one young teenager’s journey, and that of Zimbabwe itself. Engaging, dark and daring, The Rain That Washes is a great piece of theatre.

The Rain That Washes tells the tale of Matthew (Ashley Maynard), a young Zimbabwean man inspired by Joseph Nkomo to join the rebellion against the white minority rule under Ian Smith in 60s and 70s. Writer Dave Carey anchors this sprawling tale with the character of Matthew, as he tells the story Zimbabwe from a personal perspective. Inspired by the real life events of Christopher Maphosa, a Zimbabwean with whom Carey worked at Chickenshed, the audience follows Matthew, and his various companions and enemies, across the world. The script is wonderful. Despite dealing with a story so bleak, Carey finds humour in the darkness. Young Matthew’s story works on multiple levels. It is an engaging piece of character work. His young hope and optimism, and the way that is changed and morphed over the a number of years, form a fascinating arc. But his story also tells that of his country. Radio updates and newspaper headlines feature throughout, and Matthew’s (or should we say, Christopher’s) story works as an historical piece as well.

If the writing is great, then actor Maynard is outstanding. Playing the role of the storyteller, Maynard is the only actor on stage. He plays every character, young or old, male or female. His range as an actor is remarkable. He even has an accurate impression of Mugabe himself. While the range of characters is impressive, it is as Matthew that he excels. You can see Matthew age and mature merely in the way Maynard stands. His presence is excellent, and grips the audience from the moment he steps on stage. It is a unique and ambitious performance.

Technically, The Rain That Washes is a great achievement. Director Kieran Fay utilises everything available to tell this story. Whether it be the excellent blocking which finds Maynard dominating the stage, the use of small bits of costume to define characters, the inventive use of props to represent anything from people to buses, or the outstanding light and sound, the direction and technicality elevates the performance. One stand-out moment comes as Matthew is being interrogated. As he describes lights being shone in his face, the audience is blinded by a sudden brightness. It is a terrifying and extremely effective moment.

The Rain That Washes is a must see. The show transcends the tale of political and national battles painted in the timeline in the programme. It makes the issue personal, and by doing that grabs the audience’s attention. Anchored by a wonderful performance from the talented Ashley Maynard, The Rain That Washes is a tale of one man’s personal hope and woe, while at the same time the story of the problems of a nation. Compelling, disturbing and ambitious, the show is a wonderful achievement.

The Rain That Washes played as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.