Addiscombe teacher’s tale of Hastings Banda attracts plaudits

Among the four plays in the final of the International Playwriting Festival being staged at the Fairfield Halls this weekend is a new piece called Ngwasi, written by a science teacher at Trinity School, David Klempner.

Hopeful playwright David Klempner

Hopeful playwright David Klempner

Born in Cape Town, brought up in America, Klempner has been based in this country for 25 years, since studying physics at Cambridge. Klempner started writing seriously about eight years ago, and has had a radio play broadcast on National Public Radio in the United States, and another play, The Falcon, staged in 2009.

Ngwasi is the first time one of Klempner’s plays has been up for a prestigious playwriting award.

“On my travels I’ve picked up a few passports, an American accent, and a lot of British idiom,” Klempner said.

“For the last 12 years I’ve been living in Addiscombe and teaching Physics at Trinity School. Writing is a solitary pastime, and to have a play that I finished several years ago suddenly resonate with people is very exciting. I hope that this is the start of something interesting.”

The title of Klempner’s play, Ngwasi, is taken from the nickname of one of Africa’s most notorious post-colonialism leaders, Dr Hastings Banda, the “President for Life” of Malawi from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Hastings Banda in 1992, making a rare public appearance in his 95th year

Hastings Banda in 1992, making a rare public appearance in his 95th year

“What first interested me about Banda was before he became president, he was a suburban doctor in the UK,” Klempner said.

“He was nearing retirement age, a time when few men still have that thirst for absolute power that we all have in our youth… What I found curious was that he was a good man – a model citizen – until the Malawi independence movement enticed him home to be their figurehead.

“As the play developed I decided that Banda himself wasn’t the centre of it. To steal from Tolstoy, all dictators are the same but their victims are each oppressed in their own way. Two characters stepped forward – Henry Chipembere and Dunduzu Chisiza. Chip was a cabinet minister and Dundu was an economist. They were both popular and successful, and so they had to go.

“The play starts with Chip under house arrest. His wife wants him to flee to America, but he is haunted by his failure, and – due to his worsening diabetes – his friend Dundu, who died in a suspicious road accident.

“He considers his duty to his family, his country and his supporters, and is torn between the chance of starting a new life, and the possibility of a coup d’etat. He remembers a time of idealism, certainty and enthusiasm, as he considers armed rebellion.”

The International Playwriting Festival is in its 28th year, and is organised by Warehouse Phoenix, the company formed after the closure of the popular Warehouse Theatre studio venue.

“I hope the play’s of more than historical interest, as one thing that’s common to all ages is that the best and the brightest are often exiled and destroyed,” Klempner said.

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