Billed as a contemporary African mystery play, The Legend of Hamba, by the UK’s leading African theatre company Tiata Fahodzi is an ephemeral piece of outdoor physical theatre. As part of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, the regal locale of the Old Royal Naval College is fitting for a story about the mixed fortunes of a King who loses his crown and is forced into exile.
Set in 1914, it follows the central character Hamba over three ‘Ages of Man’: The Ages of Conquest, Excess and Harvest, spanning 100 years. It is an African everyman play, exploring the morality and consequences of survival through war, royalty, poetry and crime using the energy of music, voice and physicality.
Hamba is a Zimbabwean Ndebele word meaning ‘Walk!’ or ‘Lets go!’ which in everyday speech typifies a sense of vitality and perpetual motion. This is evident as the four performers weave through the audience to the ‘stage’, delineated by a ring of rope. The stage often interacts with various props, to depict a boat for Hamba to sail in or a pyramid. The performers are ethereal and spirit like, dressed head to toe in vivid, brightly coloured costumes. A resplendent golden mask represents Hamba himself.
Directed by Lucian Msamati, ‘Hamba’ relies on choreography, movement and music rather than a clearly defined narrative or dialogue, something that might not be to everyone’s taste. Some brief audience interaction at the start of the play disappointingly fails to develop into anything by the end.
As Tiata Fahodzi’s first outdoor productions, few would deny that it does a commendable job in representing African Culture positively through spry performances and visual charms. As the play ends, the performers disperse into the Old Royal Naval College grounds, merging with the wider crowd, always of course in perpetual motion. Hamba!
Review written by Evan Parker.
The Legend of Hamba will be shown as part of this year’s GDIF until Thursday 26th June at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For more information on the production, visit here…