Breakfast with Mugabe

Opened 11 April 2006, Closed 22 April 2006 at the Soho Theatre
Previewed 3 May 2006, Opened 8 May 2006, Closed 27 May 2006 at the Duchess Theatre

The Royal Shakespeare Company presents Fraser Grace's new play Breakfast with Mugabe in London directed by Anthony Sher.

Funny, unsettling and provocative, Breakfast With Mugabe tells a startling story. It's election time, 2002, in Zimbabwe, and President Mugabe is battling with mental demons. He seeks help from a white psychiatrist. Set in State House, Harare, the piece explores the conflict between African and European values, and between despotism and liberalism. The psychiatrist, whilst being alternatively threatened and charmed by Mrs Grace Mugabe, attempts the dangerous job of analysing the President.

The cast for Breakfast With Mugabe in London features Joseph Mydell as 'Robert Mugabe', Noma Dumezweni as 'Grace Mugabe', David Rintoul as 'Andrew Peri' and Christopher Obi as 'Gabriel Marunda'. Directed by Anthony Sher with designs by Colin Richmond, lighting by Wayne Dowdeswell, music by Chartwell Dutiro and sound by Martin Slavin. This production was original seen at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon (opened on 17 October 2005, closed on 26 October 2005) when it was presented as part of the RSC's 2005 New Works Festival.

"No play in town tolls a more alarming bell or so forcefully urges heads-in-the-sand theatre audiences to awareness of the late, long impact of imperialism than Breakfast with Mugabe. Fraser Grace's intriguing play is sometimes hard to follow, appearing schematic and melodramatic in Anthony Sher's vivid though over-paced production. Yet it offers a resounding counter to those simply writing off Mugabe as Zimbabwe's evil dictator who starves his people while the world looks on. It is Grace's conceit that in 2001 Mugabe, haunted and harried like Macbeth by a dead rival's spirit, submits to treatment by David Rintoul's ridiculously ranting Peric, a white, farm-owning psychiatrist with a black wife. Grace's unbelievably control-freakish Peric begins a battle for dominance of his patient that Joseph Mydell's hypnotically cool, scarcely paranoid Mugabe opposes with muted aplomb. Ancient black-white power conflict revives until a shocking ironic transference occurs... Grace implies Mugabe, once imprisoned without trial and forbidden to attend his infant son's funeral, represents the inevitable force of black revenge run mad and self destructive." The London Evening Standard

"First but very briefly seen at Stratford as part of an RSC new writing season, Fraser Grace's Breakfast With Mugabe comes into the West End for a month. And it marks an impressively taut directing debut by Sir Antony Sher. But remarkably enough, the play manages to be at the same time both overstretched and oddly skeletal... Grace wants to contrast black with white, Africa with Europe, the mind with the spirit, the despot with the liberal. And to attempt that vast range of conflict he sets Mugabe against a white psychiatrist who is also a farmer who has lost his land to the President's people in the current conflict. At this point, or in fact rather sooner, the central problem with the play becomes clear. Unlike the director, himself a South African, most of us have a shamefully generalised knowledge of Zimbabwean politics... The tension tends to vanish while we explore the extent to which tribal lore still conditions African politics, the power of the spirit to deny the mind, the ability of absolute power to corrupt absolutely. This is a thesis aching to be a play about controlling the controller and Grace has so much to say about the past, present and future of Zimbabwe that a political debate might have proved the better forum. He knows a vast amount about his chosen country's problems but not yet perhaps quite enough about what makes a drama." The Daily Express

"First seen in the RSC's New Writing Festival last year, Fraser Grace's play puts President Robert Mugabe on the couch. He also tries to expose what's going on in the head of Dr Peric, a famed white African psychiatrist summoned by Mugabe for a consultation several months before the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe... In Antony Sher's superbly acted production, various political and psychological battles are played out. That includes those of Mugabe's glamorous second wife, Grace, and his bodyguard, whom Peric tries to bribe. Mugabe's paranoia reveals the painful oppression of Rhodesian rule but also his homophobia and the violent factionalism of the liberation struggle. Vestiges of colonial arrogance are revealed in Peric as he hopes to secure his farm from occupying 'war veterans'... Sher, Mydell and the script ensure that the play's version of "the father of the nation" is scarily convincing. He's never a caricature but a watchful, edgy presence, someone warped by the pain of a colonial past. Rintoul is equally powerful as Peric, a strong individual who realises he's caught in a trap." The Times

"In Breakfast with Mugabe Fraser Grace imagines the encounters between the Zimbabwean president and a white psychiatrist, and tries to understand some of the impulses driving this controversial man. His play, directed by Antony Sher, is set in 2002. With elections looming, Mugabe is struggling with a perturbed state of mind... The piece is a tightly choreographed dance of power, with each of the characters playing as shrewdly as he can. Sher's sharp, fluid direction keeps shifting the focus (though it gallops too fast through some of the denser arguments) and is superbly delivered by a fine cast. Joseph Mydell looks uncannily like Mugabe, playing him as keenly intelligent and terrifyingly unpredictable, and David Rintoul as Peric is very strong bullish throughout, but finally reduced to rubble by the shocking repercussions from his breakfasts with Mugabe." The Financial Times

Breakfast with Mugabe in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 3 May 2006, opened on 8 May 2006 and closed on 27 May 2006.