by Sabo Kpade 

Boi Boi is Dead/Watford Palace theatre

A formidable stage actor in his own right, Lucian Masmati directs debut playwright Zodwa Nyoni’s Boi Boi is Dead, a play about long brewing family tensions that are brought to a boil after the funeral of the eponymous character Boi Boi in Zimbabwe. His ex-wife Stella (Lynette Clark) returns from Pretoria, South Africa days after the funeral presumably to pay her final respects. Boi Boi’s brother has also returned from England to bury his brother and take with him his niece who has been brought up by Boi Boi’s lover Miriam (Angela Wyntner), whose son from a previous relationship, Petu, is an ambitious hustler with plans to own a billion dollar company. Ezra is at loggerheads with Petu for what to him are his errant ways.

Family members returning home because of a shared grief (or celebration) is a familiar story whose tropes have been well mapped out on screen and stage. For it to be refreshing a significant amount of re-jigging will have to be done which is not the case here. Tracing the tendrils of plot and character arcs requires little brain work. The woman leading a wild life turns out to have redeeming qualities and the wholesome one might not be the model woman she appears to be. In this manner it is a well-behaved play, uninterested in upending consolidated narrative forms.

Wynter and Clarke in Boi Boi is Dead
Wynter and Clarke in Boi Boi is Dead

There are some directorial choices that are bafflingly poor. Scenes involving dining have the actors mime eating from empty plates. This is what you expect from a rehearsed reading and not a publicised professional production with a press night. There is also a significant age discrepancy. Miriam and Stella are portrayed as women knocking down the door of middle age while Boi Boi, the person with whom both have long been romantically involved, looks like he is only now peeking into his 30s. A better decision would be to leave Boi Boi off stage for his looming absence would be more effective than his distracting presence.

What holds the play up is an inventiveness of stage design which invokes the beauty of Zimbabwe at sundown and strong performances from some of the more experienced actors. Clark’s hard drinking, carefree living ex-wife Stella dials up her performance to near pantomime levels. This deliberate exaggeration becomes a source of joy all through even though it looks like a she has just walked in from a different play where restraint is not a watchword. Andrew French plays Petu with just the right amount of steeliness and there is a wounded dignity to Angela Wynter’s Miriam. The decision to have Debbie Korley’s aspiring singer Una belt out a song would have been a set piece had her voice not been merely good and not exceptional.

Boi Boi is Dead Runs until March 28

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Sabo Kpade’s stories have been published in Verdad, Glasschord, The Writer’s Room, Sable and Gertrude Press. His play Have Mercy On Liverpool Street was staged by Talawa Theatre Company. He is currently at work on his first novel Anyone’s Ghost. Follow him on Twitter @Sabo_Kpade

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