Art and sport imitate life in a deeply personal theatre production by playwright and Congolese refugee Future D Fidel.
BY Tamara Howie
Prize Fighter tells the story of Isa, an orphan forced to be a child soldier in war-torn Congo, before fleeing to Australia as a refugee. He takes up boxing in his new home, battling his past demons in the ring.
While Fidel was never a child solider, there are many elements that reflect his own journey as a Congolese refugee and the experiences of those he has known.
Isa is played by Pacharo Mzembe, who came to Australia from Malawi as a political refugee with his family when he was a young boy.
“Isa is an ex child soldier, he loses his family and his innocence is taken away,” Mzembe says.
“During that time he does an act as a child which haunts him.
“He escapes from the rebel soldiers and finds himself in Australia, and while here his memories and past are both his greatest strength and greatest weakness.”
The play is an extremely physical blend of live boxing and storytelling, and will be in the Top End as part of Darwin Festival.
Mzembe says boxing was made easier by a rare opportunity to perform on stage with his brother, Gideon.
“I’ve been boxing since I was young and the punches are real,” he says.
“A lot of people think it’s fully choreographed – some of it has been to make sure we’re safe – but having my brother there, I can read him well, and we can talk without talking on stage.”
The play premiered at Brisbane Festival in 2015 and was nominated in the 2016 Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work and Best Play.
Mzembe and cast mate Thuso Lekwape were also nominated for Best Male Actor and Best Male Supporting Actor for their roles.
Mzembe says the play not only tells a compelling story, but also offers more insight into the issues behind the conflict in Congo.
“People learn more about the Congo, which is responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s resources, and is the backbone of technical resources, but most people only know it for the war.
“But it’s a simple human story told in a very dynamic way. That’s what I love about it – it’s not preachy. It’s a story told in a way most people would never have experienced before.”
Thu 16 (Preview) – Sun 19 Aug | Darwin Entertainment Centre | See the event listing