The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco

Gate Theatre, Notting Hill, London

copy; Michael Shelford

copy; Michael Shelford

Andrew Whaley’s The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco wears its satire on its sleeve in no uncertain terms. What is surprising however is how deeply African Whaley, a white Zimbabwean, expresses the disillusionment that has followed Zimbabwe’s Marxist post-colonial independence and without ever actually mentioning the man most responsible. 

Written over twenty five years ago now, Rise and Shine – and a big favourite at the Edinburgh Fringe – follows an honourable tradition two decades earlier with anti-apartheid plays such as Sizwe Bansi is Dead and The Island in which a hated regime is lampooned through exuberant, child-like humour and a Brechtian-Beckett style of surrealism.

Like Waiting for Godot or Bansi, too, the action takes place in one confined space between just three characters and a fourth, Comrade Fiasco who literally bursts through the cell walls dominating everything that follows in a bitter recrimination of the betrayal of the war waged by men such as Fiasco and Kurt Egyiawan’s Chidhina.

© Michael Shelford

© Michael Shelford

Whaley’s language is rich in metaphor. Indeed the whole thing could be taken as one big metaphor for the betrayal of Zimbabwe and its people since independence. But what impresses more than Whaley’s sometimes confusing melting pot of styles – part narration, partly play-within-a-play – is the physicality and visual variety of Elayce Ismail’s production.

An emerging young director, she makes different episodes clear by mixing hallucinatory lighting – for dream or fantasy sections – with dark shadows for prison cell realism.

As the narrator, Chidhina, Egyiawan is fascinatingly controlled until his final, agonised outburst triggered by memories of the past. Gary Beadle as Jungle, a bar-room clown always ready with a quip and beaming smile makes a fine complement with Joan Iyiola’s watchful Febi who can turn from teenager to crone in a trice.

The weight of history, we’re told, sits on Fiasco’s shoulders as a figure and symbol of loss, retribution and rebirth – a lot for any actor to carry but beautifully conveyed by Abdul Salis, at once lithe as a leopard if half crazed.

Not always an easy ride, Whaley’s portrait is still a haunting one of a country struggling to reconcile past, present and future.

First published in Reviewsgate, March 2015