Two Gents Productions with Tara Arts
Two men from Africa arrive in London and are looking for Shakespeare. They make for Shakespeare’s Globe in Southwark where they hear Shakespeare is alive and kicking and that it’s his home. They want to tell him their stories, stories of how they got to England from Africa.
The Globe may keep Shakespeare alive and be his home metaphorically but clearly he died 400 years ago. It’s an amusing misunderstanding that set the seemingly simple style of what follows but things are not really so straightforward for are these two Africans what they appear to be?
For a start, they aren’t telling the truth about where they are from. One suggests they say Nigeria but the other can’t do a Nigerian accent; the other says Zimbabwe—ditto. So they decide on Balaika, a total invention. In fact everything they tells us feels like an invention. Arne Pohlmeier has directed it to feel like an improvisation but it is one that doesn’t quite hang together.
At the Globe, the two guys find themselves confronted by the theatre’s rather posh (and knighted) artistic director who’s staging a fundraising event and puts them in it: that creates an opportunity to present then performing Othello’s murder of Desdemona and include references to the Moor roles in Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice. Later, the Immigration Office catches up with them and they go on the run.
Dramatist Munyevu and fellow performer Tunji Lucas have fun layering multiple characters, including Desdemona and a busty young lady in the Globe reception who falls for Lucas’s Tunji using distinctive slashing gesture to indicate when to change character that adds extra fun to this comic picture of arty authority and the immigrant experience.
There is criticism of the lack of roles for black actors—”I’ve just played a succession of illegal immigrants,” complains one, “I never get cast in Ibsen or Chekhov,”—and there is a delightful moment when they compete over who proposes to whom in a gay marriage, but this is fractured myth rather real reportage. It treats subjects very lightly with little satirical bite except for a very real-seeming incident when Immigration arrests the wrong man.
Halfway through, the action is interrupted by an audience discussion about immigration that when I saw it didn’t really get anywhere. Perhaps at other performances this might help give the show context.
Munyevu and Lucas are engaging performers and produced a good rapport with the audience, ad libbing to involve a couple who took a toilet break. The audience clearly liked them and found the play much funnier than I did. Perhaps I just went with the wrong expectations.