After calling, waiting, calling, waiting, calling, waiting – I finally got a ticket for The Convert at the Young Vic. And in actual fact I was on the bus on my way to the theatre to just see my luck in person when I managed to successfully book a ticket.
The Universe J
I’m not sure what my expectations of The Convert would be, but I knew I needed to see this. Mainly because of my obsession with titles - with a title like that it was bound to explore Christianity. But also because this of the cast which would also potentially explore Christianity from a Black perspective. With Danai Gurira as the writer, Letitia Wright as the lead - both of whom were in Black Panther – [click the link to see my review] – this was right up my street!
It reached my expectation! And actually explored thoroughly how the missionary achieved their mission to convert people on the continent of Africa, in this case Zimbabwe. It reminded me of the book I reviewed Of Water and Spirit [see my - When the Books & Hair decide to Loc review], because it was after reading this book that I realised that mental slavery didn’t just start and end with people of the diaspora – but also existed (and exists) in Africa.
Letitia Wright plays Jekesaia, a Zimbabwean woman fleeing marriage. Her aunt Mai Tamba (played by Pamela Nomvete) introduces her to a catholic priest named Chilford (played by Paapa Essiedu) who is also Zimbabwean but has abandoned his family, belief and arguably his race for the church. Chilford then introduces Jekesais to (a white) Jesus and a new name… Esther.
Note – Us Black Caribbean’s and Americans have European sirnames mainly British and French like Smith, Williams, Baptise because of enslavement and colonisation But it never dawned on me that a lot of African people have European first names like Elizabeth, Beverley, Sarah largely because of Christianity. My favourite character was Prudence played by Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo - although all of the cast were absolutely brilliant!
#shoutout to my good friend Ivanno Jeremiah who plays Prudence’s husband.
I liked Prudence the best because she represents that mixed cultural experience that I talk about often [see my Nine Night review].
Her ability to use the Queens English whilst still staying true to her traditions, belief and culture is actually my life goals! The audience too agreed, and were very vocal in their applause, clicks and laughter - abandoning the usual silenced etiquette of the theatre. Many of Prudence’s statements and phrases were met with accolade more than once.
That blanket of comfort by seeing an audience full of young, Black Artists warmed my young, Black Artist heart. It was a lovely, engaging, supportive atmosphere; which was needed to support the hard facing issues of Black people wanting to be white and giving up not just their religion but abandoning (or being abandoned by) their families.
I was interested to see how the Actress Letitia Wright handled the concept of Christianity being a means to manipulate Africans, knowing that she is a devout Christian herself. Particular because her character Jekesaia…
Spoiler Spoiler alert**
Watches her cousin’s murder, and faces death herself.
Spoiler Spoiler ends**
My mind wondered where the line is drawn when choosing acting parts that challenge your personal belief. As an ex born again Christian myself, I was always concerned that the career I had chosen would challenge my relationship with God.
Interestingly enough, despite the revelation of the Europeans using Christianity to indoctrinate and conquer the Zimbabweans - Jekesaia does not lose faith. In fact it ends with a song of worship by Jekesaia in her mother tongue - giving all the praise to Christ.
Maybe with the increased knowledge of Christianity actually starting in Africa, and the survival of African spirituality (voodoo) existing namely in the Pentecostal churches - this adoption and merge of both Africa and Christ is on point and true. However, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that Jekesaia’s faith was not challenged, and felt this play was, ultimately, trying to Convert me.
The Convert is playing at the Young Vic until January 26th