Amai Vangu – My Mother is a challenging watch for multiple reasons
First of all, there’s a cruelty that pervades throughout the entire piece in the form of a terrifying mother figure, who looms over our speaker, Moyo (played by Shvorne Marks). We hear the story of a childhood spent tiptoeing to the bathroom in the night to avoid upsetting a tyrannical mother, avoiding her slaps and barbed words.
Secondly, Amai Vangu – My Mother is confusing and, truthfully, it’s a little hard to follow in parts. The piece delivers images and sense with sharpness and clarity, wasting no time establishing the atmosphere of the mother’s ferocity – evoking its Zimbabwean setting effortlessly. But, the actual plot is harder to find. We are treated to a kaleidoscopic mesh of images throughout the monologue; of Moyo’s hair being burned by her mother, of Moyo separated from her favoured siblings, of the mother practicing witchcraft and speaking spells into the night.
Mandi Chivasa’s script occasionally makes it hard to tell what is real and what is imagined. Although the speaker delivers a personal monologue, she also feels a little closed off to us, due to the elliptical nature of the piece.
However, this isn’t necessarily a detriment, as the real strength of the script lies in its lyricism. The heights of Amai Vangu become poetic in nature –passages describing cutting a leg, or the first journey out of the house as an adult, are so richly detailed that they elevate the whole piece, and help to build a world where this opaque story is tangible and easier to access.
Credit goes to Chivasa’s writing for this lyrical quality, but the skilful performance of Shvorne Marks is also worth highlighting. She consistently flickers between conflicting states – managing to be convincing as a confident, powerful woman escaping her torment, but also a someone who has been left fragile after her tumultuous childhood. Marks does well to conjure the mother as well, transforming into a combative, imposing matriarch and then back to her role as daughter with ease.
It’s difficult not to be aware of her physicality. Though many of Chivasa’s words shine, Mark’s body is also telling every part of this story. The mostly bare, dark space that director Maria Crocker creates lends to a subdued atmosphere (a suitcase and a chair are the only fixtures on stage), and Marks reflects this, using her movement subtly. But this subtlety belies a powerful and confident presence that helps to ground the story, even when it does become more poetic.
There are issues with Amai Vangu – it is confusing, even after a repeat viewing. Not everything in it makes sense, and even some of its themes, particularly its portrayal of motherhood, seem clouded. Yet, there is also a lot to like within the short. Its uniqueness and boldness mean it is more than worthwhile despite its flaws and, perhaps even more importantly, it is a showcase for roaringly talented women.
Amai Vangu – My Mother is streaming on the Live Theatre website.