We Need New Names is a defiant and exuberant coming-of-age story follows a young girl from the playgrounds of Zimbabwe to an America that is not the utopia she imagined, in an adaptation of the novel by NoViolet Bulawayo. The book was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2013, a first for a Zimbabwean and a Black African woman, and has been adapted for stage by fellow Zimbabwean Mufaro Makubika (SHEBEEN, Alfred Fagon Award winner). We spoke to director Monique Touko
Tell us what We Need New Names is about
We Need New Names is a story about a young girl called Darling. It follows her over 3 days of her life at the age of 10, 13 and 18. Essentially, it is a coming-of-age story about a girl moving from Zimbabwe to the US and it’s about her navigating life, trying to find herself and, ultimately, trying to survive in a Western Environment.
How faithful is it to the book?
The story is faithful in terms of its characters and that journey from Zimbabwe to the US. But NoViolet Bulawayo has given Mufaro licence for it to be his interpretation of the story and for us just to ensure there is a throughline because there is so many stories in the book. If it was faithful to the book then the play would be so long! So, it was about picking what was crucial for Darling’s story and sticking to that.
As a director, does the fact that the show existed as a book before the script bring different pressures or make a difference to how you work?
It definitely brings pressures because there’s an expectation of what the book is for a lot of people. But, in terms of my approach, I’ve tried to have the book as something that is important, but I’ve held onto Mufaro’s script as the way to go and treated it as any other process when working with a play.
What’s it like in the rehearsal room at the moment?
It’s lovely – there’s a real sense of an ensemble as the actors all get along really well and all of the creatives that are involved are super professional. Everyone just really cares about the story and it’s so nice because there are so many Zimbabwean’s involved in the project so there’s people that understand the setting very well. It’s been really collaborative and it feels like we’re making something special.
What do you think the audience will leave feeling?
Hopefully it will make them question the position of the West and how much it influences people. If people in the audience know anyone who has been on a journey from one country to another then it will help them relate to those people and understand the journey a bit more. But I also hope people see the joy in it and the fun as well. It’s particularly important in the first act as it follows these children that the audience see it in the context of a country that is politically going through a lot but also has a lot of heart.
Sum up the show in 3 words
That’s so hard! I would say: joyful, uncomfortable and important.
We Need New Names is presented by Fifth Word and New Perspectives in association with Brixton House. It runs at Brixton House 28 April – 6 May, then tours until 10 June www.newperspectives.co.uk