French connection evokes voices from past

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History lessons, as we all know, can be boring.

It needs some inspired imagination to make history come alive and that’s exactly what two lively South Africans, Nicholas Welch and Lindiwe Matshikiza, and French musician Dominique Lentin did under the guidance of French director Jean-Paul Delore, in Ster City, another collaboration that is part of the French Season.

There were restrictions, particularly time. How to tell the story of a country in 60 minutes? Easily, if you tackle it imaginatively, which this team certainly did.

It was initially put together for a season in France with children as the main audience, so apart from different indigenous languages, they also speak a lot of French, making the telling even more problematic.

But not for this innovative bunch. They decided the approach would be a playful one, which is perfect for the acting duo, who were given free rein to add their own energy in whatever way they chose.

Using multimedia with google street maps to show something of the country, an image of a map of the country projected on Welch’s naked torso to further illustrate the vastness of the country, and all kinds of surfaces to project movies with the two actors as the main participants, and then their own particular storytelling style as well as songs, they get through the history lesson in the most entertaining fashion.

Not that they ignore the horrific parts. Apartheid, the elephant in the room, is made just that and they found a provocative solution to show the kind of chaos it created.

There are problems, however, most of which can be solved easily. Because it is a rather cryptic telling, the audience needs to hear every single word and that doesn’t happen.

Welch needs to project better, and if not, he could be amplified. As a rapper, he tends to go into that style that is especially difficult to catch if it’s too soft.

And one really wants to hear what they have to say. With so few words, we know that what they say has been carefully chosen.

The space could also be turned into a more intimate one.

But that’s a common festival problem, venues. Theatre in the round would be perfect for this kind of storytelling, but perhaps that would be problematic with the multimedia.

The thing that stood out, though, was imagination as well as the rapport between the two actors who work well in tandem.

It’s a partnership worth nurturing. Let’s hope we see more of them on stage.


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