It was their fourth cross- border outing, and the Solomonic Peacocks won a near standing ovation at the April International Festival in Zambia.
The 10-year-old festival kicked off on Thursday night at Lusaka Playhouse and quickly morphed into a fertile ground for theatre cross-breeding. About 65 actors from six theatre groups not only shared the stage, but also ideas, accommodation, entrepreneurship training and socio-cultural experiences.
Opening the show was Rufinoâ€™s Wife by the State-sponsored National Pension Scheme Authority (Napsa) drama club. Save for its prolonged scenes and traits of Nollywood slang, the crew made it clear from the onset that the festival, which was suspended in 2007, was no childâ€™s play.
The case was proved beyond reasonable doubt by prolific performances from Zimbabweâ€™s Idzai Isu (Try Us) on Friday night and Malawiâ€™s Solomonic Peacocks on Saturday evening.
Typical of theatre in the inclusive government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the Harare theatre groupâ€™s No Voice No Choice was a mesmerising mix of traditional music and drama effects that puts in perspective the tough necessity to heal the wounds opened by the repressive rule, revert to respect of human rights and get rid of political impunity among the ruling party roughnecks.
To Malawians caught in the whirlwind of transition to President Joyce Bandaâ€™s three-week-old rule, the play might as well have passed for a signpost to the tough task if the country is to rise from the bruises and bad blood incurred during the late Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s dictatorship.
Yet, the Solomon Peacocksâ€™ The Hot Undercurrent travelled all the way to an era similar to the founding president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Bandaâ€™s one-party rule to show how political machinations affected family life at the top of state affairs.
The play, which unmasks the effects of parentsâ€™ involvement in their childrenâ€™s decision and enduring grudges, attracted a stunning measure applause and hushed silence as they dished out tips on marriageâ€”a spectacular rise from a sordid start, marked with shaky handling of curtains, lighting and voice projection.
“Tafadzwa Musonda and Edzai Isu were in a theatrical class of their own, but Solomonic Peacocks were probably the best among the rest. Their plot was free-flowing, the story suspenseful, the conflict pronounced and the audience enjoyed their offering,” said Salim Dawood, a reporter for The Post newspaper in Lusaka.
Likewise, the play written by Sam Kanyama Kwiya and directed by the wise peacockâ€™s president McArthur Matukuta, enthused Zimbabweâ€™s theatre columnist Mtandazo Dube. The Sunday Mail critic described it as simply electric and a must watch despite running for about 90 minutes.
As it rides the wave of come-and-see, the steaming undercurrent comes clear in the conflicts between youthful central banker Simpo (played by Talent Phoya) and his expectant fiancÃ©e Ethel (Zione Jeke-Balaleya) as the ladyâ€™s father Kazama Phiri (Jimmy Maole), a former parliamentarian and Cabinet minister, is determined to prevent her matrimonial mismatch with the “the poor monkey in a cage infested with of lice and bedbugs”.
When she is expelled by the no-nonsense father, Zione ends up in an intergenerational battle with Simpoâ€™s father (Matukuta). But as the conflicts melt down and the parents and their in-laws meet to right the wrongs and bless their childrenâ€™s choices, the revelation emerges that Simpo is in fact Zioneâ€™s brotherâ€”a sad ending of the elite Kazamaâ€™s sexual scenes with women dancers at political rallies.
As a matter of fact, she raped Simpoâ€™s mother, got her imprisoned for refusing to tango with the dirty politician and she ended up committing suicide because she cannot stomach living with the unwanted off-spring of political overzealousness.
As they bowed out, theatre lovers at Lusaka Playhouse were up and clapping, awed by the well-timed spates of suspense and use of humour as a vessel of the greater message.
Other plays included Khomo Lathuâ€™s Palije (Nothing But the Truth), Green Buffaloesâ€™ Behind the Curtain and Kabwe Artsâ€™ Child on Dustâ€”all from the host nation.
Festival supreme Kalonje Ndlovu, who also heads Yezi Arts, described the play as a spark in the series which brought together theatre experiences from the former British colonies.
He said the festival, organised by Yezi, will be back and open to other groups next year.