VOICES MADE NIGHT. Directed by Mark Fleishman, with Jennie Reznek, Faniswa Yisa, Mfundo Tshazibane, Dann-Jaques Mouton, Thando Doni, Chiminae Ball and Richard September. At The Baxter Flipside until March 23 at 8.15pm. TERRI DUNBAR-CURRAN reviews.
THE prone figure gradually begins to move. With agonising slowness she prises herself from the sandy floor. Skin dusted white, she ignores the others scattered around her in some kind of tortured slumber and raises a metal tea tray to her head. Close by, a writer fights words on to paper – her words.
The Magnet Theatre’s Voices Made Night is based on Vozes Anoitecidas, the evocative short stories of Mia Couto, a Mozambican writer concerned with exploring the effects of post-colonialism on those living in poverty.
Directed by Mark Fleishman, it is beautiful, moving physical theatre that sees a collection of characters swirl and pulsate around their writer as he agonises over every word, becoming swept up in the action as he writes to placate them, ease their suffering, to bring their stories to life.
From the moment they enter the theatre space, the audience is engulfed in Couto’s world. Littered across the stage, characters moan, wail and hiss as viewers pick their way to their seats. There’s an electric energy waiting to break free. Craig Leo’s set design is simple and used to the full. A few pieces of furniture are moved around as the stories progress and the peeling buildings of the backdrops not only place the action firmly in a destitute rural setting, but double as billboards for the titles of the tales.
The actors take on a variety of characters and when they are not in the spotlight themselves, make up the chorus adding visual and sound texture, whether squawking and flapping as ravens or looking on as judgmental villagers. Jennie Reznek’s choreography is demanding, potent and creative and is handled deftly by the capable cast.
With firm foundations in magical realism, the stories place an emphasis on the importance of the spiritual world in the belief system of the Mozambican people. From the tale of a man who vomited up a fully formed talking raven, who it was believed could commune with the spirits, to a woman who consults with a witchdoctor to win the heart of the man she loves, Voices Made Night is abstract storytelling at its finest, heavy in symbolism and rich in culture.
Reznek is most captivating as the hunchbacked and outcast Rosa Caramella. She plays a woman desperate to love despite mounting sadness and continual rejection. Her cries as she’s torn from her beloved statues in the public gardens are heart wrenching.
Richard September portrays the writer with a combination of wide-eyed delight, all consuming frustration and resigned sadness as he watches his creations stumble through their lives around him. As a would-be priest who finds his vocation challenged by an eager young woman, Thando Doni is engaging.
Faniswa Yisa takes on a variety of characters, from a vivacious woman who believes her new husband is cursed, to a long-suffering wife who supports her man in even his most foolish of ventures. Mfundo Tshazibane, in turn, steps into the role of her husband, as well as that of a tired old man who lends out his shoes in exchange for the stories of the adventures people have in them.
The physical abilities of Dann-Jaques Mouton and Doni are put to the test as they engage in a fight that switches to slow motion intermittently. And Chiminae Ball adds a touch of melody as the desperate Anabella with her sights set on the virtuous Benjamim.
Voices Made Night is often loud and challenging, while at the same time imbued with a heavy sense of pathos. Not all of the endings are happy ones, but they all stir up emotions.
Fleishman and Leo’s lighting design adds to the drama, and is cleverly used to portray the mood of each piece. Ilke Louw’s unassuming costume design and Neo Muyanga’s original music paint a detailed picture of the people Couto was so passionate about.
Mention must be made of the monumental clean-up operation that must surely be undertaken after each performance, because as the play progresses, the stage becomes increasingly littered with sand, papers, leaves, feathers and even confetti.
Voices Made Night entertains, delights and challenges. It often forces the viewers out of their comfort zones, leaving them unsettled, but still curious to see what happens next.
l Tickets are R100 to R120. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000.