After attending a play reading of Naomi’s play Not Bound Within at the Tristan Bates Theatre and ‘loving’ what they saw, the Young Vic commissioned Naomi to write a new play in Zimbabwe, as a companion piece to their production of The Convert by Danai Gurira.
Her creative brief was to explore the history of Christianity and Colonialism and their role in modern-day Zimbabwe. Naomi’s first question to herself was, in what way do I tell this story? She found her answer in the symbiotic relationship between nature and traditional cultures in Zimbabwe, in the language that connects the environment and the people, from tree to person - from the branches to the tears of a forsaken woman.
Her ideas about how Christianity and Colonialism arrived in Zimbabwe uninvited, ‘arm in arm’, between the pages of a book, were explored using devising techniques with the acting company that included members from both London and Zimbabwe. The result is a story called Umtolo - ‘The Tree’.
During the time that Naomi was writing her piece in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe responded to the Government’s decision to dramatically increase fuel prices with four days of protests and unrest. Schools were shut, businesses closed and the only presences on the streets were the army, the police and in Bulawayo the to-ing and fro-ing of a group of theatremakers led by their writer Naomi. The atmosphere created by these events helped to shape the tone and spirit of Umtolo, a poetic tale of historic Zimbabwe’s legacy.
Naomi will be developing Umtolo into a full production with the Young Vic to be performed in Zimbabwe as part of the country’s events honouring its 40 years of Independence in 2020.