The Rain That Washes is based upon the true story of Chickenshed collaborator Christopher Maphosa, and the shifting dramatic events of his life in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and then Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Co-written by Maphosa and Dave Carey, The Rain That Washes uses Maphosa’s account to construct the story of Mathew, a young boy (played by Ashley Maynard) whose life unfolds amidst the turmoil of the political struggles destroying a nation and its people. The result, directed by Kieran Fay, is profoundly traumatic and deeply personal, due both to its tragedy and its sheer truthfulness.
Throughout the performance, Maynard’s acting is superb. He narrates the story with a passionate intensity and honesty which do justice to the truth of the experiences he relays. His roles span child and man, soldier and victim, dictator and bystander, as he switches characters with impressive and highly effective movements. Maynard’s performance has a raw emotional undercurrent which flows constantly from the small, cramped stage of the Leicester Square Theatre onto the small but tightly-packed audience. Any thought of relaxing in the ‘Lounge’ area, in which the play is performed, quickly vanishes: the atmosphere is tense, the lights are harsh and Maynard’s movements are impassioned, quick and excited. He moves about the tiny stage cleverly, his props used again and again to form other props or assist in the imaginative creation of different sets. The hats Maynard uses as he changes from character to character, from his uncle’s bowler to a militant’s beret, become symbols of the violent changes occurring daily in life under Mugabe. Traversing the troubles of Zimbabwe’s past, its fractious present and its uncertain future, Maynard tells Maphosa’s story with skilful clarity.
The story itself is complicated; time, events, memories and news stories wrap themselves around Matthew, one young man growing up in a divided and dangerous Zimbabwe. Political oppression and the fight for freedom compel the schoolboy Matthew to become a fledgling member of a new Rhodesia, one liberated from the subjugation of white minority rule. He wins the attention of Joshua Nkomo and is sent to Bulgaria to study. The communist ideals of Lenin and Marx work their influence upon the mind of the student, but his idealistic notions of an African nation quickly disappear with the rise of Mugabe and the start of his oppressive reign. We see a Zimbabwe where trust is rare, loyalty is divided and the fight for mere survival soon overcomes the desire for political justice.
The raw emotion which compels Maynard is one of the many highlights of his striking performance. Tears, sweat, laughter and cries ring out from the stage in a production which is as moving as it is tragic. Through the extraordinary personal story of one ordinary Zimbabwean mad, The Rain That Washes provides a razor-sharp glimpse into the struggles of the African nation.
The Rain That Washes is playing at the Leicester Square Theatre until 6 October. For more information and tickets see the Leicester Square Theatre website.