25 January 2017
Colonialism by the book
Gate Theatre, London
When a country covets the soil of another, it also tends to want its soul. Colonialism and evangelism have often been linked, missionaries confirming on a Sunday the Western foundations laid by mining corporations and administrators during the week.
The history and ethics of religious missions are the subject of The Convert, a fascinating play by the Zimbabwean-American dramatist Danai Gurira that has its European premiere at the Gate Theatre (to 11 February), which, from the unpromising location of a room above a west London pub, has become one of Britain’s most enterprising fringe theatres.
On the thin strip of stage stands a doorway, with the wooden frame on one side rising to become a crucifix. Behind is a reddish mound of earth. At the start, the entrance is shrouded in a cloud that could be liturgical incense or ground dust or, we understand as the play proceeds, residue from the snuff that is part of the animist rituals that are the dominant native faith in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1895.
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