The Convert at the Gate Theatre received 4-star average pro reviews. Alice Saville (Time Out) hailed Danai Gurira’s “astonishing” play. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) observed “a twisted reworking of Pygmalion” as “A man reshapes a young girl, putting words in her mouth and ideas in her head” within a “richly written play about the complexities of colonialism and impact of the Church on African identity”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) found “viewing colonialism through the prism of Christianity… instructive” and praised its “keen consideration of cultural change”.
Tripney observed “a linguistic richness to the writing” and Saville, who thought it “brilliantly textured” found her “meticulously researched use of mangled Queen’s English or animist rituals” felt “natural, not exoticised or laughable”. Tripney admired the way it “never feels like a lesson.” Saville, noting that Gurira “never shows us the white settlers,” admired “its skill” in nevertheless “showing us how seamlessly their cultural norms impose themselves”.
Trueman found Christopher Haydon’s production “exerts a quiet power as it starts to grip,” Saville found the whole “lip-chewingly tense” and Tripney hailed his “striking and memorable directorial swansong” at the Gate. Trueman praised the set: “A concrete floor that, once in place, changes the landscape for good and, behind it, a mound of displaced earth”.
Most felt the main strength of the piece was its characters. Tripney found “all vividly drawn” and Trueman hailed “fine, focused performances”. Tripney thought Jekesai “wonderfully rich… a symbol of a people pulled asunder but also a rounded human being” and the last image of her “incredibly powerful”. She found Mimi Ndiweni “a radiant presence” who “seems to grow in stature and strength as the play progresses” and Saville praised a “lively, nuanced” performance.
Saville also highlighted Joan Iyiola’s “wonderfully funny, sharp” Prudence and Tripney found her “fascinating… a proud, poised woman, independent of mind” whose despair at Jakesai’s passivity is “haunting to watch”. Trueman said Stefan Adegbola “corsets himself with courtly manners and Christian ways” as Chilford, and felt Michael Ajao “conveys the anguish of a rebel as jealous as he is righteous,” hailing “strong support” generally.
Saville was “left a bit breathless, a bit startled, a bit in awe at how one play can hold so many contradictions in balance” as Gurira “clears the way for faith (of any kind) to be a guiding light through, as well as the cause of, all this mess”. Tripney summed up an “impressive and ambitious piece of writing” which “continually avoids moral simplification” and “deals with its subject with delicacy, intelligence and nuance”.
Runs to 11 Feb 2017, with some tickets still available from the Gate. We also have tickets for some previous StageScan Picks including This House, School of Rock and the transfer of Travesties.