After its initial run in Stratford as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s New Works season, Anthony Sher’s production of Breakfast with Mugabe now transfers to London’s Soho theatre. The run up to the 2002 Zimbabwe elections provides the setting for a series of escalating confrontations in Fraser Grace’s exploration of the relationship between the West and the developing world. Kathryn Merritt attended the first night…
Robert Mugabe’s reputation as one of the most controversial figures in African politics has been well documented in recent years. Unemployment, famine and corruption dominate the regime of the president of Zimbabwe. Inspired by a half-page report in a British newspaper about Mugabe’s alleged psychiatric treatment for depression, Fraser Grace wrote Breakfast with Mugabe, which attempts to delve inside the mind of this enigmatic leader and imagines his uneasy and combative role as the patient of a white psychiatrist.
Colin Richmond’s set design is simple and effective. A sparsely furnished but well-appointed sitting room in the presidential palace is overshadowed by the electric gates, which hint at the prison-like atmosphere in the Mugabe household. In this room President Mugabe (Joseph Mydell) reluctantly accepts the services of psychiatrist Andrew Peric (David Rintoul).
Months before the elections, President Mugabe finds himself haunted by the bitter spirit, or ngozi, of a murdered associate. Peric has been summoned by Mugabe’s desperate wife Grace (Noma Dumezweni) to help. Under the menacing watch of bodyguard Gabriel (Christopher Obi), Peric attempts to get to the root of Mugabe’s paranoia.
Through tense and often blackly funny encounters, the differences and conflicts between African and European perspectives are examined. Post-colonialism, racism, corruption, the struggle for liberation, family crises and the role of the dead are some of the issues explored in this thought-provoking drama. Mugabe is portrayed as a complex figure, his actions neither demonised nor excused. Peric’s role is not only as the authoritative psychiatrist, but also as a white landowner. He hopes that his treatment of the president will result in the return of his farm. Grace, the president’s ruthless wife, is desperate for a different life for herself and her children. Forty years younger than her husband, she attempts to influence the psychiatrist to aid her escape by strategically employing elegance and charm in stolen conversations with him.
At the heart of the play is an intense psychological power struggle among the characters, all of whom have their own agendas.
Breakfast With Mugabe is booking until 22 April.