Black Jesus

Anders Lustgarten
Finborough Theatre

Paapa Essiedu Credit: Adam Trigg
Debbie Korley Credit: Adam Trigg
Cyril Nri and Debbie Korley Credit: Adam Trigg

Black Jesus is a political drama set in Zimbabwe two years hence. In it, Anders Lustgarten attempts to give his audience an understanding of the complicated motivations that operate in states where the rule of law is optional.

The title character is a state-sponsored murderer attached to a group called The Green Bombers, originally a kind of Boy Scout movement for the underprivileged. Swiftly, the mission transformed until it became a kind of Hitler Youth dedicated to exacting retribution from members of the country's main party of opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change).

Despite his adherence to the Zanu-PF Party of the notorious Robert Mugabe and its questionable methods of governing, Paapa Essiedu's unrepentant Gabriel has spent the last five years in prison.

There, he is visited by Eunice played by Debbie Korley. She is an aristocratic representative of the country's newly-formed Truth and Justice Commission. She has too many hidden secrets for true credibility but genuinely seems to be in search of national catharsis.

Rob, her boss in an organisation whose independence is blighted by its connection to the country's rulers is white. He is also inconstant, blowing with the wind, sexually, politically and morally, not helped by the close attentions of what sounds suspiciously like a hit squad.

This trio makes up the early scenes but is eventually joined from an unexpected quarter by sinister Minister Moyo, portrayed with the instantly recognisable reasonableness of the politically adept by Cyril Nri.

He attempts to change the course of history, using influence that stretches far beyond the political, enabling Eunice to talk out her own backstory for viewers' benefit.

Ultimately, Black Jesus suffers the fate of far too many political plays, sacrificing convincing and consistent plotting and characterisation to the playwright's urge to convey his message. Despite this, it can still be enjoyed as an informative look at Zimbabwean politics and, by extension, those in other repressive states.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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