The Black Panther star leads a phenomenal cast in a powerful retelling of Danai Gurira’s play on faith and identity – ★★★★★
An epic three-act production takes place on a small stage in the Young Vic theatre. Wright plays Jekesai, a young Zimbabwean girl who ends up working for a Catholic priest named Chilford (Paapa Essiedu) in a bid to avoid a forced marriage. What follows is an attempt by Chilford to convert Jekesai – now named ‘Ester’ – to the Roman Catholic faith, in a shocking and raw exploration of heritage and culture.
As two cultures collide, Gurira’s script tackles various identities, issues and beliefs with razor-sharp scrutiny. Powerful performers are given equally bold story arcs to play with. Essiedu is striking as the priest trying desperately to follow his faith, Humans’ Ivanno Jeremiah is chilling and sinister as the racist Chancellor, and Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo radiates confidence as the Chancellor’s wife, Prudence.
Pamela Nomvete, Jude Akuwudike and Rudolphe Mdlongwa complete the incredible cast – as Jesekai’s aunt Mai Tamba, Uncle and cousin Tamba respectively.
The play pans out effortlessly across three acts – with several twists and turns inside a fast-paced narrative arc – but it’s in the third and final act where Ola Ince’s masterful and erudite direction comes to light. Here, the choreography brilliantly accentuates the script, establishing imaginative visual metaphors which tap into the underlying theme of religion at the heart of the play. It’s made all the more engaging by a lot of the action taking place off-stage, providing the necessary fourth-wall break to immerse viewers in this tense and unsettling production.
This review is of a preview performance. The Convert is now showing at the Young Vic Theatre until 29 January 2019.
Production Images: Marc Brenner.