Ipswich actor Michael Angus Clarke explores international culture shock in From Zimbabwe With Love
- Credit: Archant
Actor-writer Michael Angus Clarke unveils his new play about football and culture shock. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to him during rehearsals
For actor and writer Michael Angus Clarke From Zimbabwe With Love is an important step. This is not only his first full length play, it’s also his first professional tour of his work. It opens at the Sir John Mills Theatre in Ipswich before going on a tour of Suffolk and Norfolk, taking in Thetford, Norwich and Colchester as well as Garboldisham and Brandon.
It’s a play which has been floating around in his head for quite some time and tells the story of a young man from a small village dominated by families and a strong community environment and how he travels to East Anglia to pursue his dream of becoming a first-class footballer and the culture shocks that his journey, both physical and emotional, triggers in him.
The play has been directed by Steve Wooldridge who has worked with Michael in the rehearsal room to refine the text and sharpen the pacing, judging where to place the highs and lows, conflicts and contrasts into the narrative.
So how did the play come about?
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MAC: “There’s a world music festival in Norfolk called The Southburgh Festival, which is run by a friend of mine, Anna Mudeka, and she asked me to write something for last year’s event. Her festival raises money for people in Zimbabwe and she asked that the play feature a character from Zimbabwe and I thought what about having someone travel from Zimbabwe to Norfolk.
“I wanted to explore the culture shock of moving from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to the rural splendour of Norfolk and while I was writing it, it occurred to me I should make him into a footballer because football is like an international language.
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“What I wanted to do was show him living a simple life in his Shona village in Zimbabwe and then contrast it with the same man living a more affluent life in England. I first performed it at The Southburgh Festival and it went down very well, I got a lot of good feedback and I though it would do well being seen by a larger audience, so I thought about doing a tour across East Anglian which is when I contacted Steve (Wooldridge) to add another pair of eyes on the material.
So has the play changed at all from the first version to the text you are now using in rehearsal?
MAC: “Well, (he pauses) the first draft ran for about three hours and so I really had to prune it back for The Southburgh Festival. The version I played there lasted for just over an hour. When I started rehearsals for the tour I didn’t want to limit Steve, so I gave him the full three hour script to work with and almost immediately he started cutting stuff, left, right and centre.
“I was pleading with him: (he laughs) ‘don’t cut that bit, I love that speech, don’t cut that, but he was right. I was repeating myself, going off at tangents, Steve is very good at giving the play pace and structure. We negotiated over some passages and it’s now a tight one hour 45 minutes with an interval.”
Is it hard handing a play you have written to a director – particularly if he wants to make changes?
MAC: “I approached Steve to direct because I have worked a lot with him in the past. He is someone I really respect. I first approached him for some staging ideas when I did it at Southburgh, so it was natural to get Steven to come in and do the tour.
What’s the biggest difference between the two versions of the play?
MAC: “The long version allows you to explore the narrative more and to delve deeper into the character. You learn more about Robert Matalasie, our professional footballer. We discover what makes him tick. What sort of man he is. Although football acts as the background to the story, it is really a character study of an honourable man. He has been taught to always tell the truth. It’s part of his family background but it brings him into conflict with his professional career and this provides one of the major turning points of the play.
Will the staging of the play give a sense of the journey Robert Matalasie has made?
MAC: “The nice thing about it has been creating a cultural journey with audio-visual elements and specially recorded soundscape, commentary and African music which gives the piece a sense of place.
From Zimbabwe With Love, by Michael Angus Clarke, is at the Sir John Mills Theatre on February 9 and is then on tour.