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A CurtainUp London London Review
Breakfast with Mugabe

Peric: Well, as you know, I am an African myself. Born and bred in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe: How fortunate for your race. Even ethnicity becomes a matter for your choosing.
Breakfast with Mugabe
Joseph Mydell as Robert Mugabe
(Photo: Alessandro Pinna)
It was reported in the papers some years ago that the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was seeking treatment from a white psychiatrist to help him to deal with the evil spirit, the ngozi, of a former political rival which was affecting his mental health and giving him periods of depression. This incident is what inspired Fraser Grace to write Breakfast with Mugabe, which forms part of the Royal Shakespeare Company New Work Season. With South African born Antony Sher, actor and playwright, in the director's chair, Breakfast with Mugabe uses the relative positions of the white psychiatrist, Anthony Peric played by David Rintoul, and the president (Joseph Mydell), to look at the position of black and white Zimbabweans.

Set in the presidential palace in Harare, Peric waits to see his unusual patient. He meets first Gabriel (Christopher Obi), Mugabe's bodyguard and secret policeman and then Grace Mugabe (Noma Dumezweni), fashion plate and young wife. Grace explains that she and her children are very frightened by her husband's unpredictability and mood swings. During the play Mugabe explains some of his history and political decisions, the events that have made him the kind of man he is today. We learn of his imprisonment and the death of his son from encephalitis while he was in prison. He also tells us about his rivals, one of whom is assumed to be the ngozi, Josiah Tongogara, who was expected to become Zimbabwe's first president but who died in a car accident just before the liberation. Mugabe can conveniently blame the white man for the state of the nation and the ngozi for any show of temper on his part. Peric concentrates on talking about Mugabe's first wife Sally and her role as an idealist. We also see Andrew Peric's individual decline when his family farm is taken over by the "war veterans" and his black wife and workers are killed. The connection with the Mugabes affords him no protection.

There are some obvious metaphors operating in Fraser Grace's play as we look at those gaining and those losing power in those African countries where colonial rule has been replaced by an enforced but shaky democracy and which gives way all too soon to a new kind of undemocratic oligarchy, or even dictatorship. Much of the play sees Peric waiting for the president to keep his appointments but this gives us the opportunity to hear Grace and, to a lesser extent Gabriel's interpretation of the president's behaviour. There are also good comic moments like when Mugabe insists that Peric changes his necktie, which is just a power ploy by Mugabe to gain a psychological advantage. Peric counters with laying down the rules for the patient-doctor exchange. "I will address you by your first name, Robert. You will refer to me as Doctor - or if you prefer Mister Peric." Fraser Grace quite cleverly makes Mugabe explains his rules and avoids vilifying him which gives the play enough balance to stimulate debate.

David Rintoul is perfect as the white man left behind in a world that is changing. His closing scene is full of pain and sadness as, having been beaten up in Harare, he sits alone in his farmhouse. Joseph Mydell captures Mugabe's mannerisms and outbursts but his portrayal is partially sympathetic. Noma Dumezweni is an elegant and intelligent Grace. The palace set has the trappings of expensive furniture, while to the rear a security grille shows the flowering bougainvillaea in the gardens, a reference to the natural beauty of Zimbabwe. Sher's direction is deft and Breakfast with Mugabe shows other playwrights how historical narrative, in this case fictional narrative, can be successfully dramatised.

Written by Fraser Grace
Directed by Antony Sher

Starring: Joseph Mydell, David Rintoul
With: Noma Dumezweni, Christopher Obi
Design: Colin Richmond
Lighting: Wayne Dowdeswell
Sound: Martin Slavin
Music composed by Chartwell Dutiro
Running time: One hour thirty minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 429 6883
Booking to 22nd May 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 12th April 2006 performance at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1 (Rail/Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
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