Nzinga – Warrior Queen

Aug 3 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Well woven tale

Just at St John’s (Venue 127) Fri 1 – Sat 9 August 2014

Entertaining and thought-provoking, Toto Tales’s premiere of Nzinga – Warrior Queen has overcome serious setbacks to become a thoroughly successful piece.

Isla Menzies as Nzinga in an early publicity photo.

Isla Menzies as Nzinga in an early publicity photo.

The story of Nzinga, the warrior queen of the Ndongo in what is modern-day Angola, and of her battles to lead her people and wars with the invading Portuguese, could have been scuppered before it ever reached the stage.

A back injury meant that original performer Isla Menzies had to pull out of the role of Nzinga, with her sister Mara (the writer of the piece) taking over despite being eight months pregnant, with Isla taking over as director.

Neither these upheavals nor some technical difficulties with the performance had any significant negative impact. Mara Menzies’s undoubted storytelling and performing abilities mean she is able to draw the audience into a cleverly constructed narrative that uses her own family history to introduce the story of the warrior queen.

As well as expertly differentiating between Nzinga at various ages, her performance is warm, hugely involving and thoroughly commanding, using dance, movement and an excellent rapport with the audience. This means that she is able to make the character of Nzinga appear rounded and entirely human, bridging any gaps history or geography may put between her and an Edinburgh audience.

“emotionally evocative”

The technical difficulties with sound and projection were more than overcome; indeed, those multimedia elements that survived seemed unnecessary. The heart of the piece is in the live performance, and the other artiste, dancer and percussionist Yamil Ferrera is a huge part of this, blending earthiness and elegance in a thoroughly effective presence.

It is this blending of the emotionally evocative and more otherworldly elements which gives much of the power. It is stated early on that we are all shaped by the decisions and actions of people who have gone before us, and there is certainly a real sense of history on display, communicating the story of a little-known but obviously important figure without ever appearing to be a political or moral lesson.

There are also huge resonances throughout the piece, not only in terms of gender and race but also in attitudes to family, attitudes to violence and the way different cultures interact. These weighty themes are extremely lightly worn in what is a hugely entertaining piece of theatre.

Running time 1 hour
Just at St John’s, St John’s Church, Princes St, EH2 4BJ (Venue 127)
Fri 1 – Sat 9 August 2014 (not Tue 5)
Daily 16.00
Tickets from
Company website at


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