Two Gents Productions’ upcoming show The Moors, at Tara Arts from November 7, is a playful amalgamation of South African workshop theatre and Shakespearean story structure, meditating on race, immigration, and art. The writer and actor of this two-hander show, Tonderai Munyevu speaks to us about the conception of the show, collaborating with Tunji Lucas and his interests in Shakespeare fused with South African performance and culture.
What is The Moors about?
The Moors is about migration and issues that come from being moved or moving yourself from your country of origin. It’s also about how people looking at outsiders. It looks at the way we all look at black performers and what we expect from them, in a way, how we all fetishize other cultures. More precisely, it’s about two very wounded people finally accepting themselves and growing up.
What kind of things should the audience expect to see when they come to watch The Moors? First and foremost, two performers relishing being on stage in a play that encompasses so many aspects that reflect their own lives. Its rooted in South African performance modes, but it has a bit of dance, a bit of Shakespeare, a bit of audience interaction, loads of comedy and then a couple of hard hitting moments, so there is a lot there! Me and Tunji keep alternating between excitement and bloody panic!
Do you live and breathe Shakespeare? When did you first fall in love with Shakespeare and theatre?
Oh wow! I suppose I do at the moment. I’m spending a lot of time just channeling him, questioning him. seeing and reading loads, so I’m “living and breathing him”. In the show, we keep playing with this idea that Shakespeare is alive and kicking, which gets said a lot. But what does it mean, especially in the world we live in today? I fell in love with King Lear in sixth form English class and have never looked back!
What are the core values of Two Gent Productions?
Just not having a hierarchy, we don’t think it works. Everyone’s ideas are valid. We commit to trying them all out. Arne is a great partner in crime – just really persistent and very open-hearted. Whoever we work with become our family, really. Another core thing about us is that the actor’s own experiences are at the core of our work. That’s what’s really exciting about working with Tunji and sharing our different stories of being two very different black men in this world. and seeing how similar we are, but also how so differently we have experienced the world. I could go on…
What was the inspiration behind this production of The Moors?
The inspiration was really the great Shakespearean comedy! There’s this buoyancy in them, which I have always loved, yet there is this sort of reaching out for drama and poignancy that has always struck me as being really sublime. I write about immigration a lot and just wanted that framework to help push through that message. I was also very curious about what the prince of Morocco’s story would have been if he had come to woo Portia and had to go home empty handed. What would he say to his family, to his tribe and his subjects. I had this feeling that he would have just remained here and not gone back. That then made me think of Othello and Aaron, and in what ways their own stories remain true today.
What has it been like working with Tunji Lucas in the rehearsal room? Is it your first time working together?
First time! And wow, he is so talented, just incredibly playful and has fitted into the Two Gents style like he’s been with us from the beginning. He has also been quite savvy and realised how much work it takes to do this kind of theatre and has been tireless at running things over and over again, which is half the battle!
What’s your experience in theatre? How did you know theatre making/directing/acting was your dream job?
I always wanted to create things. I was open to how my own work could be better and was very curious regarding what the audience was feeling, so that’s how I ended up doing all the different things I do now. I have learnt through trial and error with Two Gents and I have also been lucky to work with some extraordinary directors outside of Two Gents. Quite frankly, I have based my whole theatre ethic on my encounter with Annie Castledine in my very first professional play.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into the theatre industry?
Firstly, take a deep breath – its a long journey. I second what Phoebe Waller-Bridge has recently said: find your tribe. People who like you but are rigorous and work, work, work! I am very lucky with Two Gents because we just push ourselves and each other. Every now and then Arne tells me how great he thinks The Moors is and that keeps me going. And then there are days when he suggests a drastic cut and then I am able to roll with the punches.
Header photo: Tonderai Munyevu and Tunji Lucas rehearsing for two-handler show, The Moors.