Breakfast with Mugabe (BWM)
Synopsis Breakfast with Mugabe (BWM) is a big play with a small cast. A predominantly English text is peppered with short sequences in Shona. BWM tells the story of Andrew Peric, a white psychiatrist called upon to help free a paranoid President of Zimbabwe from the ngozi, or bitter spirit, that is stalking him. As he investigates the President's demons, both past and present, Peric also reveals his own need for salvation- with disastrous consequences.
Cast Four (three males, one female)
Royal Shakespeare Company 2005/6. Commissioned by RSC in January 2002. 'Breakfast with Mugabe'' was first produced as part of the Swan Theatre programme on 17 October 2005.
Robert Mugabe..............Joseph Mydell
Grace Mugabe..........Noma Dumezweni
Gabriel ..........................Christopher Obi
Andrew Peric.....................David Rintoul
The show was designed by Colin Richmond with lighting by Wade Dowdeswell , sound by Martin Slavin and music by Chartwell Dutiro. This production was also adapted for radio and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on the BBC World Service directed by Anthony Sher, produced by Marilyn Imrie for Catherine Bailey.
Fraser's View- I started work on BWM...in the back end of 2001, and felt a huge responsibility to GET IT ON. I thought, in my hubris, that the piece might play a small part in waking people up to what was going on in Zimbabwe. Believe it or not, Comrade Bob was not getting much attention, at that time!
The dramaturgical process at the RSC - who commissioned the play- is a very thorough one. Also the company had lost, or given away, its London base, and there was no simple route to production for a new play on such a subject. Nonetheless, the commission survived the comings and goings of personnel, and was picked up by Dominic Cooke when he arrived to take charge of new writing.
When the play finally emerged, blinking, into the New Works Festival in 2005, it was all worth it. The Swan Theatre, Stratford is one of my favourite theatre spaces, anywhere, and Antony Sher in his directorial debut pulled together a great cast for a really supercharged ninety minute production that went on firstly to Soho Theatre, and then to the Duchess Theatre.
The intensity of this production was beautifully offset by Chartwell Dutiro's heartbreaking music- a great squaring of the circle, since meeting Chartwell early in 2001 was one of the accidents that had set me writing the play in the first place. It was a combination of his music and conversation that summoned the spirit of his country and provided the prompt to attempt the play.
BWM was influenced by many other journalists and writers, most of them unwittingly.
Quantum Theatre, Pittsburgh, USA, February 2008. A new production, directed by Karla Boos.
Andrew Peric......... .........Ezra Barnes
Robert Mugabe...............Don Marshall
Grace Mugabe............Rebecca Thomas
Design by Tony Ferrieri, Lighting by Scott Nelson and Sound by Elizabeth Atkinson
Fraser's View I have always written plays about places I have never been to, half-hoping that I will travel there to see them performed. So, obviously, a play about Zimbabwe became the pretext for my first visit to the US in February 2008!
Quantum Theatre's modus operandi is to find a venue to fit the show - a previous production took place in a summer orchard , and another in an empty swimming pool. For BWM, whirlwind director Karla Boos took over an abandoned department store on Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh. They sited the play in a ripped-out stairwell on the second floor. Designer Tony Ferrieri did not have a big budget to play with, but as the pictures show, his impact was stunning.
Karla's 'in-the-round' production drew a sell-out crowd , some coming from as far as New York - eager to engage with the play and its subject, and to say very nice things to its disappointingly white playwright.
Ustinov Theatre Bath, February 2008 A new production directed by Paul Robinson.
Fraser's View You wait an age for a production, and then...BWM's second production of February 2008 was in Bath Theatre Royal's newly refurbished Ustinov Studio. The play was chosen to launch the first season in the new- look studio- a great honour, and as it turned out, a sharp move on their part. Paul Robinson directed. Like Karla Boos in the US, Paul inserted an interval. This reduced the play's intensity a little, but also allowed room for some very subtle playing. As a Zimbabwean himself, Myles Anderson also brought authority to the role of Peric, and contributed, like the rest of the cast, to a fine production in every sense.
Bridge Theatre, Nairobi, Kenya, 12 April 2008
A public, rehearsed reading, directed by Katie Richardson:
Andrew Peric ........................Andy Williams
Grace Mugabe ........................Lorna Irungu
Robert Mugabe................ John Sibi Okumu
Gabriel ....... .................Makbul Mohammed
Nov. 5-21, 2010. The Edith Bolt Kutz '42 Theatre Lackland Centre, Hackettstown, New Jersey, USA.
Director: David Shookhoff. Set & Sound Design: Lee Savage Lighting: Ed Matthews
Andrew Peric........................Ezra Barnes
Grace Mugabe......................Rosalyn Coleman
Robert Mugabe....................Michael Rogers
Fraser's View Ez Barnes, who first played the part of Peric in the Quantum Theatre Production in Pittsburgh, has remained a huge fan of this play. It was his enthusiasm and commitment that brought this brand new production into being in 2010. Teaming up with director David Shookhoff from the Manhattan Theatre Club, he persuaded Carl Wallnau, Artistic Director of the Centenary Stage Company that the show was an ideal 'opener' for the new black box space at their base in Hackettstown, New Jersey. The Edith Bolte Kutz Theatre was duly introduced to the public and inaugurated as a space where performing arts students, theatre goers and professional performers can meet; the fact that David's strongly cast production was so well received by press and public was very exciting and demonstrates that the play still has plenty to say, half a decade after its first performance.
It was great to meet Carl and the team at Centenary, and to make my first visit to New York. Ezra now has his sights firmly set on bringing of this production into the city- his home town- hopefully later in 2011 .
For more details of the Centenary production and its cast, follow the links below:
Awards: John Whiting Award 2006 Best Play (Joint Winner)
'...the piece cracks and pops with wit, but the humour sugar-coats a deadly seriousness...The shock of the evening lies in Grace's even-handedness'. Dominic Cavendish, The Daily Telegraph.
'...contains a dazzling number of vectors of political and psychological power-play'. Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times.
'...a brilliantly imagined journey...' Mark Shenton, The Stage.
.'..an intriguing, powerful and witty drama...This work's beauty lies in exposing the human frailty at the heart of belligerence and murder'. Oliver Duff, The Zimbabwean
'...gripping theatre...a powerful contribution to a much wider debate'. Patrick Carnegy. The Spectator.
'...Grace's probing of Mugabe's mind, speculative but riveting, ensures that this breakfast offers plenty to get your teeth into'. Sam Marlowe, The Times.
'Zimbabwe may seem an improbable for a white, Derbyshire- born, playwright, but Fraser Grace writes as if Africa were his homeland. His play is short, tense and devastating'. Kate Kellaway, The Observer.
'We are often told that political theatre is one-sided, partial and unfair. But I recommend the sceptics to take a look at Fraser Grace's compelling 90-minute play'. Michael Billington, The Guardian.
'Fraser Grace's piquant new play...on the problems of post-colonialism, Breakfast with Mugabe offers serious food for thought'. Paul Taylor, The Independent.
'...Grace's cerebral but emotionally accessible play...the playwright's sardonic humour courses through it like a subterranean river of death, reminding us that when it comes to dictators, irony, banality and tragedy swim in the same waters'. Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
'Grace's great strength as a playwright is in viewing Zimbabwe's tragedy from both sides-the paranoia and corruption of Mugabe's regime set against the role that earlier colonial rule has played in the catastrophic decline'. Jeremy Brien, The Stage.
'From the moment 'Breakfast with Mugabe' begins you can feel the tension rise...' Alice T Carter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
'...a provocative thought experiment...Fraser Grace's tough, intelligent and suspenseful drama ...' Robert Isenberg, Pittsburgh City Paper
'The play is a fascinating look at the nature of power and the complex legacy of colonial oppression in Africa'. Allison Vale, The British Theatre Guide.
'...an excellent, explosive play...The writer' s strength is that while he exposes the present horrors he does not shirk from revealing the arrogance of the nation's colonial past masters'. Alan King, Bristol Evening Post