I recall a conversation with a work colleague that started out as a chat about the the 80s - mullet haircuts, Wham! and Everton winning the league - then took an unexpected turn into war in Africa and the extraordinary events my friend had witnessed. The same thing happened to Dave Carey at Chickenshed Theatre. Except he, and his friend Christopher Maphosa, used the the terrifying material as the basis of a one-man play, The Rain That Washes (at the Leicester Square Theatre until 6 October).
The horrors of Zimbabwe's last thirty-five years have largely been reported through their impact on the white population - from its surrendering of minority rule in 1980 to the "land reform" of the 21st century, with its allocations of farms to Robert Mugabe's "war veterans". But there is another story too that took place in that beautiful country, one that places the Black African at its heart - a story of tribal guerrilla war, private armies and friends torn asunder, as the Big Men jockey for power.
Ashley Maynard (as Christopher) captures the idealism of a teenager off to fight for a just cause, captures the exotic thrills of being chased through the jungle by a lion and of feeling snow for the first time at a Marxist-Leninist education camp in Bulgaria and captures the sense of loss in the fracturing of the new Zimbabawe into tribal conflict. Using a range of voices, but the minimum of props, Maynard is funny, touching and searingly honest - he serves his brave author well.
Though The Rain That Washes is an individual's account, as the closing scene shows, it is typical of thousands more in Southern Africa and millions more around the world. It gives voice to the masses caught up in the blizzard of acronyms, as alliances form and split in conflicts. It reminds us that behind the headlines, behind the stories buried on page 25, behind the strories that never see the light of day - men, women and children are struggling to get by, with just their wits and dumb luck to keep them from oblivion. It is to Chickenshed's great credit that they allow the forgotten millions their day in this moving and beautifully performed play.