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The Twilight Rainbow

Theatre Under Fire
Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
(2008)

Production photo

There is something fake about this rhythmic celebration of Zimbabwean traditional life: the zebra pelts around their shoulders and the wrappings on their legs - they're all fake fur, but everything else about it rings entirely true. Theatre Under Fire is a performance group of refugees and asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, formed less than two years ago and based in Leeds.

They have already created one show which told the story of three refugees who decided to flee Zimbabwe and the conflicts they had to face in a British detention centre. Now they offer a presentation that uses the traditional songs and dances of their homeland to give a picture of rural life and of the experience of those who leave it to support their families by working in the mines of South Africa.

To the accompaniment of djembe drums and two marimbas, nimble feet and stamping gumboots, they sing in Shona and Ndebele (and occasional snatches of English) of their hunting trips, their herds, a special cow and an important bull through whom they speak to god, and of the sacred place in the Matopo Hills where a rain-making ceremony is performed. We are told the story of how the Rock Rabbit came to have no tail, are invited to witness a wedding celebration and learn how those from different countries reshaped the gumboot dances of Johannesburg with elements of their own traditions then took them home again to Zimbabwe.

Edwin Mathe does much of the spoken presentation, but everyone shares in explanations shaping the performance so that we understand what each song or dance expresses. The problems faced in the gold mines and a song which pleads for a father to come home lend a heavier tone but mostly this is a joyous celebration, remembering the good things of home, that fires the audience with enthusiasm. It is only afterwards, in a question and answer session, that the problems of today's Zimbabwe are discussed.

Directed by Peter Mutanda Wa-Ndebele with choreography arranged by Tonesei Gumbo, this is a far cry from the kind of 'ethnic' show, fortunately now much less common, that used exploit other cultures as exotic curiosities for western audiences. Kabelo Madonko,. Dingilizwe Ncube, Maqhawe Ndlovu, Thembelenkosini Moyo and Clement Moyo complete a talented company who show us something that they enjoy and love and invite us to understand and share it.

At the Warehouse until 15th June, then in Bradford and Newcastle with other touring dates to be announced

Reviewer: Howard Loxton