We’re all aware of the life of Elizabeth I, the Tudor Queen of England, who sat on the throne for more than 40 years, a monarch whose reign would see off foreign invasion and forge the first chains of the British Empire. But in our ashamedly white-centric world, less is known about Queen Ana Nzinga of Ndongo (present day Angola), a warrior Queen in a sixteenth century Africa being thrown into chaos by the early days of European colonialism and its slave trade.
The two would never have met or probably even have been aware of one another’s existence (Elizabeth died in 1603 when Nzinga was 20 years old and didn’t yet appear in historical records). But imagine if they had a portal through which to find each other so that they could share their experiences of being powerful women in a patriarchal world? What if they had some mechanism through which to communicate, where they could give each other strategic advice, teach each other their customs, become friends?
This magical instrument is gifted to each woman in the form of a mirror that allows them to travel in time to a place where they can come to understand each other and, not denying the incredibly different worlds they inhabited, how strangely similar some of their struggles might have been.
Written and directed by Philip Kingslan John from an original idea by Sasha Herriman, Nzingabeth or When Ana met Virginia is the coming together of two hugely important figures in world history. The women discuss issues such as love, war, appearance, race and family, eventually coming to realise their equality and bonding as females (even as feminists). As Nzinga, Gloria Lawrence seems freer and more fun next to Herriman’s staid but likeable Elizabeth. As the story goes on, both have relaxed into each other’s company, so much so that their images and realities become more than blurred. Behind them, supporting and serving them, are Kinza (Moses Hardwick) and Richard (Benjamin Akira Tallamy), who add welcome musicality to the show with their African drumming and Tudoresque guitar.
Expect excellent storytelling, plenty of singing/dancing and witticisms in this unusual and insightful glimpse into history. I went with two pre-teen girls, who enjoyed the lightness of what could be a difficult subject and I was surprised not to see any other children among this Theatre Tropicana audience. Celeste, aged 10, writes (careful, a couple of spoilers):
“I LOVED IT!
“My favourite Queen/person/actor was Nzinga. My favourite parts were when the drum man did a headspin, when Elizabeth sang a song about Henry VIII and when they swapped wigs.
“The silly part was when they sat on the music men. Ha! And when they drank caterpillar juice! I really liked it.”
Nzingabeth is currently touring – see here for dates
See what’s on at Theatre Tropicana here