ZHE [noun]: undefined
The Door, Birmingham REP, Friday 15th November, 2013
Director Chuck Mike weaves together the true stories of two British Africans, Antonia Kemi Coker and Tonderai Munyevu, to create a play that includes childhood and adolescence, awakening sexuality and gender identity, immigration and prejudice, body image and self-knowledge… It packs a lot into its 90 minutes running time, and it’s all buoyed along by the energy and skills of the two performers. These two rather androgynous figures are engaging storytellers right from the start, dropping in and out of a wide range of characterisations through physicality and voice, often using their brightly coloured scarves as neckties, headdresses, even snooker cues, to populate the play with dynamic sketches.
Kemi is London-born and cannot understand, as a young girl, why the people in her local shop ask her if it’s hot where she came from – “I only come from down the road!” As she grows, she faces problems at home and at school, winding up in care before reaching adulthood and trying to work as a actor.
Tonde comes over from Harare to get an English education – a status symbol apparently. He knows he is different and identifies as gay but there is something else… Later in life, he is diagnosed with testosterone deficiency.
The protagonists come to learn of their otherness and how to accept it. It’s an entertaining, funny and touching piece that, by dint of the very appealing performers, makes you care about them from the off. This is theatre that is deceptively simplistic – it is only through hard work that they make it seem so effortless; it reminds me of an Athol Fugard, but this time the political is very personal (and personable).
Not polemical in any way, Zhe points out that there are other ways to define human beings, if definition is indeed necessary, and there are other ways of living but all of them are human.
I loved every minute.