“Marikana: The Musical.”

Book and Director: Aubrey W. Sekhabi
Composer and Musical Director: Mpho Mckenzi Matome
Choreographer: Thabo Rapoo
Set, Lighting and Video Designer: Wilhelm Disbergen
Costume Coordinator and Senior Stage Manager: Irene Moheedi Mathe
Sound Engineer: Richard Mitchell
Assistant Sound Engineer: Zwelibanzi Jan
Assistant Director: Tshepo Ratona
Featuring: Meshack Mavuso, Aubrey Poo, Mpho Mackenzie Matome, Segomotso Simon Modise, Simphiwe Shakhane, Simphiwe Emma Mmekwa, Mathapelo Masilela, Siyasanga Catherine Papu, Terrence Ignacious Ngwila, Jabulani Wiseman Mthembu, Njabulo Ntaka, Nkululeko Khutshwa, Vuyo Sishuba, Sbongiseni Mnguni, Thabiso Zondi, Saviour Mthethwa, Sibonelo Mdlalose (leading cast), Kgaugelo James Sithole, Steven Mokone, Phelokazi Maphitshi, Given Wiseman Maziya, Mohlalefi Ernest Mokete, Pholoso Mohlala, Mpho Maifadi, Masego Peele, Georgina Nwa-manabele Mabasa, Refuwe Mofokeng, Mpho Sewela, Kabelo Moshidi, Veli Mavuso, Remember Maluleka, Bongani Mthombeni, Sfiso Matlala, Tinyiko Mkhabela, Sydney Gwadiso (chorus and dancers)
Executive Producer: Aubrey Sekhabi
Stage Manager: Joseph Mogale
Assistant Stage Manager: Bafana Dladla
Follow Spot Operators: Evelyn Mpheteng, Athini Ncayo
Band: Oupa Makhubela (Guitarist), Zakhele Mabena (Pianist), Kelvin James (Bass Guitarist), Yisrael Mutale Mashabela (Keyboard), Itumeleng Mmutlana (Drummer)
11 August 2017, 20:00
South African State Theatre, Pretoria

20170816_185807

Well executed, necessary, but not avoiding the pitfalls of supposedly “documentary” theatre

The tragic events at Marikana on this day in 2012 is undoubtedly one of the most important events in the history of South Africa. It was a shocking concretization of the failures of, not only the management of Lonmin Platinum, but also the mineworkers’ unions, the South African police force, and a government who has not delivered on a promise of a better life for all. And yet, behind the newspaper reports, political analysis, and outrage, there were real people who had lost their lives.

Therefore, when I first read the title, “Marikana: The Musical,” it seemed to be an oxymoron. I expected a dark musical that commented on the viral mediation of the unfortunate events with detached cynicism. I was a little disappointed to read in the director’s note that the musical aimed to be, just like the book that it is based on, a “blow-by-blow account” of the events at Marikana. Sekhabi states that he aimed to remain faithful the book, We Are Going To Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story (2013), which he describes as “a ‘warts and all’ account of who did what that told the facts without taking sides.”

The musical therefore aims to be an unbiased documentary account of what happened. I have written elsewhere about historical fiction (particularly within the genre of musical theatre) that aims to present itself as objective truth. Such a venture is impossible – a point to which I shall return.

That being said, “Marikana: The Musical” is an engaging theatre experience and I think that it is important for South Africans to be reminded of the event in question and to honour those who lost their lives. The historical events lend themselves effortlessly to the genre, since song was integrally part of the strike, as Sekhabi mentions in his programme note. The choreography aptly represented scenes of the police marching, the mine workers striking, and the conflict between these two groups. The accessibility of the genre is also appropriate, since this is a story that needs to be told widely.

Furthermore, the set was functional and effective. As the show starts, the performers are lifted from the stage floor on a platform. As the show ends, the players on the platform are again lowered into the stage floor. This quite effectively resembles miners being raised from and lowered into a mineshaft, working underground where their fate is easily forgotten, not only by the managing structures of the mine, but also the consumers of the precious metals and minerals that the miners unearth. The stage is quite empty apart from a mineshaft and the now infamous koppie where the striking mineworkers gathered. A wire structure doubled to both represent the koppie and be an “orchestra pit” for the band. The band is visible onstage, but at the same time safely secluded from the events.

There are also actors that need to be singled out for their performances. Aubrey Poo’s representation of Commander Nyoka was compelling. He effortlessly attracts attention to himself and elicited quite a reaction from the audience on the nigt that I attended, although this might be due to his roles in the soapies Muvhango and Scandal! I found Phelokazi Maphitshi’s portrayal as a police officer haunting. Her role may have been modest, but her face conveyed a complex mix of emotions, where fear and uncertainty is masked through discipline. It is as if her character knew from the start what the outcome would be, but had little choice in how the events were handled.

Unfortunately, the transitions from music to dialogue were not always smooth, and the production tended to be too sentimental at times, which brings me to my issue with fiction that tries to sell itself as objective truth. Whereas “Marikana: The Musical” indeed does not take sides as far as the miners and police are concerned and shows the humanity of both groups, these are not the only role players in the events. The journalists covering the events as well as Ziyaad, the panga salesman, were represented as stereotypical caricatures, far removed from the reality of the events. Lonmin’s management is depicted as undeniably evil and Riah Phiyega as a caricature. While I am in no way suggesting that Lonmin’s management or Riah Phiyega are innocent victims in the Marikana story, their cartoonish representation, where the lines between good and evil are easily drawn, undermines any attempt of the production to be an objective account that does not take sides.

In my discussion of Deon Opperman’s “Tree Aan!,” I sharply criticize the production for presenting a suspect ideological viewpoint (that justifies the border war) as fact. While I cannot disagree with where “Marikana: The Musical” lays the blame for the massacre, the fact that it is blind to its own fictionality leaves me slightly uncomfortable.

Sources:

Dlangamandla, Felix; Jika, Thanduxolo; Ledwaba, Lucas; Mosamo, Sebabatso; Saba, Athandiwe; & Sadiki, Leon. 2013. We Will Kill Each Other Today: The Marikana Story. Tafelberg: Cape Town.

Sekhabi, Aubrey. 2017. “Writer’s and Director’s Note.” Marikana: The Musical. Programme, p. 4.

Advertisements

“Betrayal.”

20170810_222401[1]By: Harold Pinter
Directed by: Greg Homan
Featuring: Antony Coleman, Carly Graeme, Tom Fairfoot, José Domingos
Produced by: Daphne Kuhn
17 June 2017, 18:00
Auto & General Theatre on the Square, Johannesburg

SPOILER ALERT!

In writing this post, I feel a little apprehensive. I know the play, Betrayal, very well – as in Betrayal-is-one-of-the-plays-my-doctorate-was-on well – and it always seems a bit unfair to then judge a performance of such a play, since no production can compete with the imaginary one in my imagination.

The play is about a love triangle between Robert (Antony Coleman), Emma (Carly Graeme), and Jerry (Tom Fairfoot). Robert and Emma are married while Robert and Jerry are best friends. The play is presented to the audience mostly in reverse chronological order. The audience’s first encounter with Jerry and Emma is two years after their affair has ended. Each subsequent scene shows more betrayals between the three characters, each entangled with the first, major betrayal, which is that of adultery. The audience, for example, learns that, not only has Emma betrayed her husband with Jerry, but she has also betrayed her lover by not telling him that her husband, his best friend, knows about the affair.

Greg Homan’s production is, despite what will follow in this post, an enjoyable theatre experience. The actors are convincing as three Londoners in the 1970s. The costumes and décor are functional and effective. However, I felt that the production did not put enough emphasis on the language of the play. According to Martin Esslin (1992:277), Pinter’s most valuable contribution to the stage is the way in which he exposes how stage dialogue tends to overestimate the way in which people actually use language. Pinter (2008) himself argued that language does not fail us, but that we use it to avoid, conceal, and evade:

I think we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rearguard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves. Communication is too alarming. To enter into someone’s life is too frightening. To disclose to others the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility.

Therefore the precise words that Pinter’s characters utter are extremely important. Changing a character’s lines – even ever so slightly – could alter a Pinter play quite significantly. I was therefore quite shocked that Jerry’s utterance in Scene One, when he tells Emma that he never had any suspicions that Robert were cheating on her (despite her assertion to the contrary) was changed. In the printed text, Jerry says:

For example, when you’re with a fellow in a pub, or a restaurant, for example, from time to time he pops out for a piss, you see, who doesn’t, but what I mean is, if he’s making a crafty telephone call, you can sort of sense it, you see, you can sense the pip pip pips. Well, I never did that with Robert. He never made any pip pip telephone calls in any pub I was ever with him in. The funny thing is that it was me who made the pip pip calls – to you, when I left him boozing at the bar. (26)

In Homan’s production, the “pip pip pips” were cut. While this might not seem to be an important omission at first glance, it forms an important onomatopoeic link with Robert’s “whoomp,” later in Scene Four, when he explains how he travelled to Torcello in a speed boat. Both these utterances show how language is more than words. How people create their own meanings as they go along. How words do not live in dictionaries, but in the mind, in Virginia Woolf’s (1974:205) words.

In addition, Pinter’s plays demands from the actor an approach which differs greatly from the ubiquitous Method Acting. According to Hanna Scolnicov (2012:8), Pinter plays require “a hyperrealistic fidelity to external appearances together with an opaqueness that deliberately refuses to suggest motives or inner workings of the mind.” Pinter’s characters often try to hide their emotions, with only the tiniest gestures hinting that there may be more lurking beneath the surface than what their words suggest. Peter Hall (2005:137-8) refers to this as “veiling” and suggests that actors playing Pinter’s characters portray various, conflicting emotions, each masking the other.

In Homan’s production, I felt that the characters were doing the opposite of this: they over-emoted when their emotional portrayal should have been more nuanced and subtle, and, on the other hand, they underplayed key moments in the respective characters’ emotional arcs. For example, when Jerry and Emma dissolve their affair in Scene Three, Graeme’s Emma was too visibly upset. At the end of the scene, when she struggles to remove the apartment’s key from her keyring, this action seems superfluous. If she had underplayed the scene, the struggle with the keyring would have betrayed her emotions, rather than merely emphasizing an already loaded situation.

On the other hand, in Scene Five, when Robert confronts Emma about her affair with Jerry, she seems too calm. She does not appear to be distressed or cornered by Robert’s insistent questions. It is therefore not clear why she confesses to the affair. When Robert asks her why she is shaking, she does not seem to be shaking at all and this question subsequently does not make sense. Instead of menacing, Robert now comes across as babbling.

Similarly, in Scene Nine, when Jerry first seduces Emma, Fairfoot’s delivery was not urgent enough. Instead of drunkenly pretentious, Jerry was nonchalantly rambling away. A very important plot point in this scene is that Emma rejects Jerry’s advances until Robert enters. When he seems nonplussed by what is obviously a seduction of his wife, Emma responds to Jerry after Robert exits. However, at the point when Emma is still rejecting Jerry’s advances, she seems (appropriately) uncomfortable and – yet – very close to the door. It is not clear why she does not simply leave while Jerry is (seemingly) incoherently rambling on.

These subtle changes in emphasis therefore make the characters’ motivations unclear at times. Despite a clever, functional set and overall smooth delivery, I unfortunately feel that this performance did not reach its full potential.

Sources:

Esslin, Martin. 1992. Pinter: The playwright. London: Methuen Drama.

Hall, Peter. 2005. “Peter Hall: Peter Hall interviewed by Catharine Itzin and Simon Trussler in Theatre Quarterly, No. 16, 1974.” In: Smith, I., ed. Pinter in the theatre. London: Nick Hern. pp. 131-157.

Pinter, Harold. 2008. “The echoing silence.” The Guardian, 31 December. Online: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2008/dec/31/harold-pinter-early-essay-writing/print (Accessed: 4 December 2013.)

Pinter, Harold. 1978. Betrayal. London: Faber.

Scolnicov, Hanna. 2012. The experimental plays of Harold Pinter. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Woolf, Virginia. 1974. The death of the moth and other essays. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: San Diego.

“Sanctuary.”

Direction and design: Brett Bailey
Dramaturg and author: Eyad Houssami
Sound design: Manolis Manousakis
Lighting design: Colin Legras
Videos: Catherine Henegan
Featuring: Magd Asaad, Robert Ian Ouko Kibet Babu, Sandrella Dakdouk, Françoise Hémy, Françoise Hémy, Muna Mussie, Nidal Sultan, Lionel Tomm
Technical Director and production manager: Miguel Munoz
Sound and video engineer: Carlo Thompson
Company and stage management: Helena Erasmus
Construction: Foivos Kouvdos
Illustration and graphic design: Roger Williams
Set: Ray Studios
Props: Velissarios Sirmakentzis
Soundscape “Neroli”: Brian Eno
Programming: Alexandros Drymonitis
Piano: Constantinos Evangelidis
Production and general manager: Barbara Mathers
Production manager: Jan Ryan
Management: UK Arts International / Third World Bunfight
10 June 2017, 20:00
Oberhafenquartier
Theater der Welt, Hamburg, Germany

Brett Bailey’s “Sanctuary” is quite an interesting experience. The audience is taken in small groups through a labyrinth of wire fencing depicting the experience of refugees. As an audience member, you are treated as a refugee. Talking is prohibited and you are subjected to the constant waiting for (fictional) bureaucratic processes to be finalized before a green light permits you to progress through the labyrinth. There are times of seemingly senseless waiting.

The first room that the audience enters is a waiting room. Promotional photos of Europe are projected onto a screen. These photos later stand in stark contrast to the lived reality of the characters in the rest of the installation. The audience proceed to view tableaux of various people affected by the current refugee crisis. Each of their stories is written on a placard in front of them. They include a man who risked everything to give his baby a better life, now stranded among debris in a harbour. There is a musician in a hostel room among broken instruments and debris, writing to his mother about the beautiful apartment that he stays in and the symphony orchestra that he is a member of. Next the audience sees a woman in a wheelchair whose arms have been amputated. She sits in front of a shop window advertising Black Friday promotions while the audience can read how she was sold into slavery and raped on a daily basis. The audience also sees a Somalian woman who works as a sex slave and a disillusioned photographer/translator who has heard the line, “after seeing this footage, the world will know,” too many times.

At some point, men and women are separated. There is another waiting period. Then the audience enters the apartment of a 74 year old woman. She is lonely. She knits, apparently without purpose, as her knitting reaches the floor and does not seem to resemble a shape. There is a display case with Hungarian dolls and two fish in a bowl. Next in line is a municipal worker in Berlin. Although he says that he was sympathetic towards the refugees’ situation initially, he now fears that they are posing a threat. The last tableau shows a man on a coast in France. He is disillusioned about the boundaries that Europe is now protecting so fiercely after invading Africa for centuries.

The installation is surely interesting. It shows the audience something of the human experience behind the statistics and news flashes regarding the refugee crisis. Since I am very curious when viewing any type of performance, I looked intently at each performer, not looking away when they each made slow and steady eye contact. Yet, this was only possible within the fictional context of the installation. Whereas one tends to avert one’s eyes when confronted directly with poverty or misfortune – not only because it would be inappropriate to gawk – but also because eye contact in such a situation is too intense, too raw, the fictional context of the performance makes the audience member’s interaction with the tableaux socially “safe.” Nevertheless, it remains disconcerting because of the knowledge that the events in the installation are based on fact.

However, I walked away from the installation feeling a sense of disappointment. Although poignant, the piece felt a little predictable. It did not challenge the audience in any way or find innovative ways of dealing with the content. Of course, it is important that the broader public are made aware of the events that this installation is based on. The installation addresses an international crisis that needs intervention. Yet, I did not feel that “Sanctuary” shifted any artistic or conceptual boundaries.

“Los Incontados: Anatomy of Violence in Colombia: Triptych.”

Direction: Heidi and Rolf Abderhalen
Set design: Pierre-Henry Magnin
Costume design: Elizabeth Abderhalen
Lighting design: Jean-François Dubois
Multimedia: Luis Antonio Delgado, Natalia Duarte, Ximena Vargas
Sound design and live performance: Juan Ernesto Diaz
Featuring: Heidi Abderhalen, Agnes Brekke, Andrés Castañeda, Julián Díaz, Jeihhco, Danilo Jiménez, Santiago Nemirowki, Santiago Sepúlveda, Wilman Rodriguez
Mapa Teatro Children Band: Lesly Ramírez, Melanie Ramírez, Sofía Rodriguez, Mariana Saavedra, Dario Sinisterra, Sebastián Zúñiga
Producer: Mapa Teatro
9 June 2017, 21:00
Kampnagel
Theater der Welt, Hamburg, Germany

SPOILER ALERT!

Watching Mapa Teatro’s “Los Incontados,” which translates to “the uncounted,” is like visiting a museum. Behind a Perspex screen the production shows you tableaux depicting scenes of life in Colombia. The screen very intentionally keeps the audience at a distance, asking them to observe and judge for themselves.

The stage thus resembles a diorama. However, the back wall repeatedly gives way to reveal another space, as in a dream or a memory. The first tableau shows the audience a living room in the late 1960s. There is a children’s percussion band, poised, waiting. Yet, the revolution never begins. Instead, the back wall gives way to a garden party. Although the line “it is time to stop the party and start the revolution” is repeated, the decadence on stage merely erupts into chaos.

The audience is thus first shown an ostensibly innocent space: a living room resembling a childhood memory; thereafter a hedonistic party. In the last part of the play, these two spaces seem to spill into each other. Streamers from the garden party spill into the living room. Popping sounds are heard throughout; however, they do not represent gunshots from a revolution, but merely popping balloons and confetti guns.

“Los Incontados” therefore illuminates certain social difficulties in the Colombian context: a revolution that never seems to begin, being hijacked by a party that spirals into decadent chaos fuelled by cocaine. Yet, the audience is purposefully kept out of the events on stage. They are not invited to participate in the party, but asked to observe and draw their own conclusions.