Directed by Suzanne Millar
bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company
Kings Cross Theatre
244-248 William Street, Kings Cross
Season: 29 April – 21 May
Eurocentric imperial intervention has left a nasty gash in the globe, permeating world history. Grassroots resistance campaigns have fought back to varying degrees of success. People grapple with this vastly complex international phenomenon as buzzwords like “human rights” and “justice” are thrown around in our neo-liberal contemporary predicament. Some are genuinely trying to make a dent in restoring world peace and order. Some are trying to save face whilst ensuring money keeps fattening their already fat wallets. bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company’s Australian premiere of Black Jesus does a stellar job of engaging with these confounding issues not only on an intellectual level, but in a way that throttles emotions. The setting is Zimbabwe. Revolutionaries have thrown off the semi-fascist western regime with success and yet another sinister power is taking hold in the stead of the liberators. Some people have been judged guilty of despicable acts in the throes of revolution. Others may be equally accountable - and yet money and power has paved a way of escape. When nobody is free from guilt, what is there to do?
Anders Lustgarten is a political activist, and apparently touts an impressive arrest record across four continents. He aims to write about the Zimbabwean situation from the inside, rather than an imposed western perspective (however he is British and has university education from the UK and US). The result is nuanced and fascinating. Suzanne Millar’s direction injects explosive life into every scene, with the actors embodying the direction with sizzling physicality. Elijah Williams plays Gabriel Chibamu, renowned as the brutal Black Jesus, a leading youth revolutionary in the group the Green Bombers. Williams most significantly embodies this physicality, aided by his domineering presence and booming voice. He is quite terrifying, and to make audiences believe that he could really be capable of mutilation and torture are dangerous (yet exhilarating) waters to tread. Belinda Jombwe-Cotterill plays Eunice Ncube with immense resolve, staunch in the face of Black Jesus, and yet admitting fear. Eunice is a key example of appearing ‘good’ and yet not wholly escaping blame, but we’re still on her side. Use of live drumming inserts a new dynamic, propelling movement at various stages throughout the performance and augmenting tension. Alex Jalloh, on drums, remained on stage for the entirety of the performance, a continual reminder of Gabriel’s (and perhaps Zimbabwe’s) impending fate.
Australian theatre is too often whitewashed. This approach is, needless to say, prejudiced, dulling, and tired. Conversely, bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company is bringing a story to the Sydney stage that audiences rarely get to enjoy. Black Jesus sheds light in a part of the world that is consistently portrayed through a western lens. Australia is implicated in the international bodies working in Zimbabwe, so it’s important we endeavour to understand what’s happening outside our own relatively insular horizon. Black Jesus is an exciting story that demands questioning of the status quo. We could do with more of that.