Provocative new work
SYRIA? Written by Faith Kinniar. Directed by Quanita Adams, with Gary Naidoo, Peter Fourie and Faith Kinniar. IN(S)KIN written and directed by Mbongeni Mtshali with Julia Wilson, Kai-Luke Brümmer, Ntombi Makhutshi, Jared Musiker, Thembekile Komane and Ryan Mayne. At Artscape Arena Theatre until Saturday.TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews
THE ‘orange exercise’ from which the autobiography of Barney Simon, The World in an Orange takes its title, is a staple in theatre education. Simon used an orange to explore shape, texture, uses for and biography of the simple fruit and said its aim was “to discover and look at the multiple reality of all things, that nothing is simply one thing.’’ Simon’s belief in the multiplicity of a story and multiple realities, sometimes experienced by a single individual is captured in Syria, written by Kinniar. She explores the different views of Islam, “a religion of peace, or a philosophy filled with hate to be feared” - both are views that are expressed by her very colourful characters. I was reminded of Simon by the very visceral use of the fruit in the play.
As a metaphor for a place unseen, the Jaffa orange is gifted to Lauren (Kinniar) by Waleef (Naidoo) in an attempt to share his understanding of his faith. Later in the play it is used again to illustrate very vividly the consequences of misplaced realities, a failure if you will to hold complexity. The opening sequence is delivered by Kinniar as a disgruntled mother, Constable Valencia Malgaas whose bigotry is breathtaking in its breadth and ignorance.
Her fevered dressing down of a school principal is an explosion of verbal vitriol and prejudice delivered with a deadpan conviction that had audience members exclaiming their shock out loud. She has honed her satirical cabaret skills under the tutelage of Martinus Basson at the University of Stellenbosch and it is as dark and delicious as you would expect it to be.
The small cast of three flits between roles, with some more successful than others. Kinniar plays both her mother and herself, but she does the switch well and despite the generational difference is believable. Naidoo gives a credible performance as a disillusioned Muslim teenager from the UK. An introvert, ostracised because of his political beliefs and his shy nature he epitomizes the generation of global citizens, living and working in multiple continents and exploring the facets of a multicultural society.
The broader global narrative of terrorism and refugees is interwoven with their burgeoning relationship. The storyline is interspersed with musical interludes, one or two were bearable but they are not the best feature of the play.
The kernel of this new work is interesting and provocative and with development could be entertaining and informative. As an indication of the global nature of the theme, Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State written by Gillian Slovo was staged at the National Theatre in London in May. Collaborating with Nicholas Kent she interviewed mothers of the children who left their suburban homes in Brussels to join the Islamic State in Syria. Malgaas could have been one of those mothers and poses the conundrum whether youngsters are running away from homes of ignorance or to promises of relevance.
The double bill programming of the New Voices programme means that the second show of the evening draws a smaller audience as many leave during interval. Despite that the auditorium was filled with the presence created by this troupe of actors and dancers on stage. The text is sublimely beautiful, a choreopoem which takes language and creates a musical score to which the movement unfolds. Mtshali has used the experience of being one of only three black students at a private boy’s boarding school in Natal in the 1980’s. The memories he evokes are so vivid you breathe chalk dust and the rarefied atmosphere, feel the pulsating energy of pubescent men exploring their own identities and that of the world around him. Feeling “no longer ourselves” he echoes the themes of multiculturalism introduced in Syria.
Holding on to hope like “an upside down teacup” the poignancy of the poetry is heightened by the narrator played by Komane who is beautiful in this role. Audiences may be more familiar with his dance work but he claims centrestage here with a certainty that is entrancing. Musiker has enjoyed a successful month following the critical claim enjoyed by his piece, #Ballet Must Fall which was awarded silver in the Fresh Production category at the Cape Town Fringe Awards, and he brings a playfulness to his role.
The cast may be dressed with a uniformity, khaki pants and white shirts so reminiscent of private school attire, but each individual performance is striking. At the heart of the play the young man returns to the memories of his childhood, to a time when his mother tongue left him without warning. Makhutshi, his mother is a grieving widow, holding her grief in check with a regal forbearance. There is a moment where she pours sand through her fingers, recalling the particles in an hourglass as time slips away. She builds a tomb- like mound of dust, a reminder of where we all return. She creates another human and seems to breathe life in to it, a reminder that everything, even a lost language is salvageable.
It is a quietly tragic performance where the sheer weight of multiple grief is shared so eloquently with very few words. In sharp contrast are the writhing and contorting bodies on stage, indicative of the inner turmoil of a young man, mesmerizing as the choreography flirts with the acrobatic. The four boys bristle with testosterone, the macho sports culture of high school concentrated in a sequence of planks and rugby tackles. It is difficult to say which is more powerful, the prose or the movement but the perfection of this piece is that they don’t compete but combine seamlessly to draw you in to an unforgettable experience.
The aim of New Voices is “to resuscitate the essence of our nation through excellence in theatrical performances of our stories. These are voices of our common narratives and individuals’ memories that have been deprived of resources, dignity and have, in the past, been under appreciated.” A bold initiative.