Molepo’s adaptation a lame duck

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to sw MatingBirds Sanmari Marais Seputla Sebogodi in Mating Birds.

MATING BIRDS

ADAPTATION/DIRECTOR: Mpho J Molepo

CAST: Seputla Sebogodi, Martin Le Maitre

DESIGN: Wilhelm Disbergen

VENUE: Momentum Theatre

UNTIL August 17

RATING: ***

BASED on the story by Lewis Nkosi, this is a tough one to tackle from many different angles, but what a courageous choice to reflect on 20 years of democracy.

The words don’t always fall easily on the ear, especially when spoken by someone. The written word is something else. Once you put those words into a character’s mouth, it has to feel comfortable, to swirl around on the tongue and come out as naturally as we breathe. That’s how we speak.

Someone might throw Shakespeare at me here, but even with his language, the way it is spoken is where the magic is made.

It’s also a tough choice because of the context and yet, 20 years on, how scary to be reminded what this country looked like, with seemingly innocent scenes like a mob of white women on a beach parading in bikinis. And on a continent called Africa, not a black person in sight.

But should anyone other than the specific masters of the universe covet those women even as they parade themselves on the beach, life as you knew it would be over.

All of that is playing around in a man’s head as he sits as if in a gilded cage in prison waiting for the death penalty. His crime was to think that he could twist the rules, that his glances were being reciprocated, that the love game was on.

It was always a game of power, whether the woman had intentions or not. They were living in apartheid South Africa, she a white woman and he a black man. She could do with him what she wanted. So many things come into play. His longings, her needs, his assumptions while living in a world gone mad, her toying with a life, so much part of the white consciousness of the time.

Nkosi’s story can take you down many lanes and stand clearly as a reminder of the horrors of the past. There’s the towering and quite magnificent set which lends itself so clearly to the unfolding of this awful tale and yet, the production unravels a touch with multimedia unwisely used, too many visual aids given too crassly rather than allowing for the imagination to grab hold of the story. Constant repetitions of certain phrases and actions also diminish the power of what is being said.

If we’re talking about a desolate beach, just showing a “whites only” beach of the time doesn’t work. It does with the first flash to show the time we’re dealing with, but not when going to specific scenes. And the white dummy in a bikini with a blonde wig is comical rather than representing the allure that it would have had for this young man. So do the rather clumsy shadow visuals which are supposed to represent the might of the apartheid regime.

Often it helps to allow a story to tell itself. Nkosi is such a strong writer, to diminish his writing with all these ineffective visual aids detracts rather than adds to the production. Perhaps Sebogodi and Le Maitre could have developed more fully fledged characters if just left on their own to tell this devastating story.


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