The Convert hurt my feelings. A lot, and unnecessarily. For that, I have to thank actors, Letitia Wright, Paapa Essiedu, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, and Pamela Nomvete, who excellently and passionately depicted a story of religious and racial conflict, hypocrisy and pain. I was especially hurt by Jekesai’s naivety, for she truly, truly believed in the word of God and those who preached it, and as the play’s events unravelled themselves hitting the characters and audience with more suffering, you could literally see Jekesai’s own innocence and naivety unravelling into nothingness too.
A moment of the play that was particularly bruising was after the execution of Tamba when Jekesai’s monologue explains that she thought that the white men “would be like Jesus… but they killed [her] cousin”. This hurt my feelings. The same people she looked up to and admired were the same who destroyed her absolute faith and trust in a God that they had introduced her to. Letitia Wright’s performance in this part was so compelling, I was literally almost brought to tears. I remember looking over at some of the other audience members and a lot of them were actually wiping their faces. Jekesai then goes on to say that whereas she “expected the inside to be different”, the blood of the white man that she killed “was looking just like [Tamba’s]”, which was also another pang to the chest. For real, Danai Gurira and Ola Ince did not let us breathe with this one, but that isn’t a bad thing. This scene dealt with the hypocrisy of organised religions, specifically Christianity, or at least the hypocrisy of those who have preached a word that they do no adhere to. This was so compelling though because Christianity was used in order to subordinate Africans. It was used by colonisers to justify rape, murder, and empire, because if the Lord instructed them to do so, then surely nobody can argue against their actions. But being exposed to what it might’ve been like to live through that time of multidimensional colonisation, from your land and home, to your mind, culture and even your language, was incredibly moving and thought-provoking. Prudence talks of the “great black tragedy”, perhaps meaning the tragedy that comes from the sheer futility of losing oneself in pursuit of validation and acceptance from those who have colonised and enslaved you, yet still being utterly rejected by them.
“ Letitia Wright’s performance in this part was so compelling, I was literally brought to tears.”
On the topic of Prudence – arguably the most interesting and undoubtedly the most intelligent and perceptive character – Lewis-Nyawo’s performance was absolutely stunning. She immaculately captured the radicalism of Prudence without forgetting her more empathetic and humorous side. Prudence is seen as a sort of parody of a Victorian woman, even drinking tea and having her hair wrapped up into those giant, most definitely uncomfortable hairstyles belonging to that time. Yet, despite being the most qualified person in the room at all times, she is still overlooked due to her gender (and also race outside of Chilford’s home). Prudence, who “speaks their language better than themselves” notes that “it doesn’t matter how much English you learn”, you will still be regarded as a savage. She therefore still deems it important to retain her mother tongue, highlighting to Jekesai and Chilford that they must not forget themselves, even remarking to Jekesai that speaking the Shona language brings back “colour to [Jekesai’s] cheeks.” She demonstrates her intelligence through her word play on the Victorian phrase and also on the fact that Jekesai speaking her native language brings her back to her African roots. At first, I wanted to dislike Prudence, on the grounds that she seemed so false and pretentious, but in reality, she’s just playing the game for her own survival. She outwardly subscribes to what men and white people want from her, but in actuality, she has her own very well thought-out, very elaborate beliefs that she is unafraid to share. As the play progressed, I came to really, really admire Prudence and understand why she behaves the way she does, plus, I can’t blame her for it.
There are so many themes and moments that I want to touch on, but I’ll end with this particularly striking element of The Convert, and that’s the ever-present figure of Jesus Christ on the cross. This symbol is staged for the audience to see from even before the play actually begun and, in the very last moments of the play, when Jekesai recites to Chilford how people are now after her, the symbol of Christ disappears. The figure of Jesus throughout the play was essentially a symbol of colonialism and the white men who are spoken of throughout, yet never seen. It shows how their influence is always looming and how complacent many of the colonised are to the white man. However, it’s also striking because Chilford has willingly put this image of Jesus Christ on his wall, serving the purpose of constantly acknowledging who and what he is devoted to but, from a distance, also detailing how he has perhaps been brainwashed into devoting his life to God’s word and spreading it too. I have similar thoughts on what this means for Jekesai too, as the figure of Jesus on the cross goes away once she comes to the revelation that the white men who preach the word of God are nothing like god at all. Therefore, it also represents Jekesai’s naivety, making it all the more painful when the figure rises above the audience’s heads out of our sight as Jekesai and us both realise that she is no longer the high spirited and juvenile girl she once was.