By press night, the run of The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and his Sexy Wife Chipo has already been extended to 25 August, as the lady on the press desk at the Tricycle Theatre told me. This set my expectations high even before I stepped into the auditorium, and the world premiere of this show certainly didn’t disappoint. With an excessively long title and an enormous slab of self- awareness, Denton Chikura’s debut as a playwright cleverly plays upon the structure of our storytelling conventions by formulating for the audience the perfect ‘rags- to- riches’ tale, taking a young legend of African folklore and propelling him into the Hollywood spotlight.
Set in a “world that is running out of stories”, the show opens with Don Gilet’s ebullient showman-narrator imploring the fathers of storytelling to bring him divine inspiration to help him create an original plot for the story he is about to share with us. This show challenges the conventions of storytelling as it rips to shreds the notion of originality. The humour of this show lies in its self conscious structure and blatant adherence to theatrical conventions.
Ery Nzaramba excels as the naïve-yet-muscle-flexing farmboy hero, Nhamo, and Tanya Fear doesn’t disappoint as she sizzles as “his sexy wife Chipo”. The power driving the whole play is Don Gilet’s Narrator. Dressed in a waistcoat and slacks, he gives off the sense of being a frustrated film director trying to tie a bundle of edited scenes together. His toothy smile and business-like approach to creating the story leaves the show at his command.
Denton Chikura’s script bounces from intertextual reference to cultural allusion and back again, with the rags-to-riches tale of Nhamo being compared to that of Harry Potter, Shakespeare and Barak Obama. The interjection of immediately recognisable phrases and quotes makes the comedy fast-paced and hilarious, but also means that the narrative is somewhat sporadic and disjointed when they get carried away. Director Lucian Msamati has evidently decided to harness the ridiculous nature of the story by telling to actors to perform the show with so much energy that it, at times, can seem overwhelming in such a small theatre. Although this works with Nyasha Hatendi as the villainous Commander Specimen, there is no need for all four of the actors to be trying quite so hard. The comedy is in the script.
The design of the set is flexible and effective. Ropes hang down in a semi- circle at the back of the stage, giving the appearance of a rainforest. Ben Stones the designer has made an intelligent and practical decision, as these ropes are entirely flexible and can be turned into curtains, a doorway or merely be an interesting backdrop when needed.
It is fantastic that such an innovative and unusual piece of new writing can attract such great audiences, so much so that even before press night its run can be extended. This show is highly recommended for its sheer entertainment value.
The Epic Adventure of Nhamo the Manyika Warrior and his Sexy Wife Chipo is running at the Tricycle Theatre until 24 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Tricycle Theatre website.