“Makwacha Hip Hopera”, originally “The Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht is a comical and modern version of the text. The adaptation was very cleverly devised by Nanzikambe using the original version for structure and plot but taking on a modern Malawian theme. Set in our own hometown-Blantyre, the audience could easily relate to the characters and overall plot, making it enjoyable and easy to follow. The play revolves around Polly, a young British girl who falls in love at first sight with, and later secretly marries, Panga knife Mac, a highly wanted Malawian gangster and womanizer. However her Malawian parents (who adopted her) strongly disapprove of the marriage as they know of Mac’s criminal reputation and desperately want to get him arrested- which eventually happens.
“Makwacha Hip Hopera” shows the differences in culture between the British and Malawian. The clash in culture is clearly shown in the scene where the couple is getting married and Mac’s gang disapproves and is shocked that he is marrying a white woman. Their facial expressions were very effective in showing their shock and they shook their heads to show their disapproval. The play also attempts to show the large gap in society between the relatively rich and the poverty stricken people, showing a great deal of status differences- the play portrays how the richer people in this case, such as Mr Phiri (Polly’s father), take advantage over the poor and use the country’s poverty as a source of “income.” The audience became almost appalled by these people’s greed and lack of sympathy towards the poor population of the country.
Another message which is explored in the play is the corruption of the police- this is understood as the audience is told that the chief of police had been helping Panga Knife Mac all those years to avoid jail for all the crimes he had committed. This showed the lack of trust and the lack of control that the police had over the country and the characters used to play the police were also very weak, showing that they were easily manipulated. One last theme which was depicted in the play was religion- the way the characters spoke of the bible was to me, almost mocking and it was not taken seriously at all. This mocking was shown through the Pastor who Mr Phiri dressed as a “prophet” and who he used to manipulate other people and follow his works. Mr Phiri showed how little he thought of the bible and how he considered himself to be a “Saint” when clearly he was manipulating people by making them think that he was an honest and religious man.
I think that this play was mostly targeted towards young adults as well as a Malawian audience as there were many local references made such as “bwana” (sir) when the gang was referring to Mac. The content also addressed many controversial ideas such as politics, government, religion and sexuality. Also the modern content would have been more appealing to a young audience as they could easily relate to the characters, references, slang language and the present day life depicted.
It was a very entertaining production-the acting style was very exaggerated. The characters were very caricatured and comical- for example I found Mrs Phiri (Polly’s mother) very amusing as she overreacted in response to everything and was always stumbling about, slurring and mumbling to herself as she was drunk all of the time. Another very humorous character was the Pastor who kept repeating the line: “glory, glory,” which made him very comical and entertaining.
All the characters had very clear personalities. Polly, the British girl seemed to be a very well educated, smart and spoilt girl, influenced very much by Malawian culture. She spoke very fast most of the time, showing how sharp-witted she was and she also seemed to be a very energetic character, making lots of big gestures and really involving the audience such as where she was fighting against Lucy-here she made very big gestures to show her confidence.
Mac on the other hand was quite a mysterious person- keeping to himself and always having quite a serious, calm expression. The audience almost felt wary of him and got the impression that he is not someone to be trusted; this was clear when he was promising Lucy that he would marry her and that he was not with Polly when he was obviously with her. He was getting very close and physical with Lucy and he spoke with a gentle, comforting tone to try and persuade her that he was telling the truth. Here the audience would have realized that he was infact a liar and an untrustworthy man.
I think that more dramatic techniques were needed to be used as I found the style of acting the same through the play. There were a few instances where there were duologues such as when Polly and Mac were together and also when Mr and Mrs Phiri were arguing at the start of the play. Also there times when the characters were talking directly to the audience and involving them such as when Mr Phiri was telling the audience about how Poverty is his source of “income.” When addressing this to the audience, he spoke with much confidence in order to make the audience believe that what he was doing was right.