The Return, written by Fatima Dike, is the last full production mounted by Artscape in this season’s New Writing Programme. Big Friendly and I went last night to the opening and we couldn’t have had two more contrasting reactions.
I really enjoyed it. The play tells the story of Buntu played by Pakamisa Zwedala and his American wife Isis played by Roshina Ratnam, who come to South Africa to meet Buntu’s parents who live in Langa, and to have a traditional wedding ceremony. Veteran actress Nomhle Nkonyeni plays Mama and Sticks Mdidimba plays Tata. The production is directed by Roy Sargeant.
I found the script warm, accessible and easy to relate to. There were no huge surprises here and the characters were all rather typically drawn. Mama and Tata’s relationship was touching and warm, and very funny. Buntu had the required push-pull of America versus African homecoming. But poor Isis really suffered from a character point of view. She was just too shallowly drawn as the inquisitive but respectful American who has to fight for her place in the family saga. Having said that, I enjoyed the warmth of the text, the flow of the story and the uncomplicated depiction of the vaguely dysfunctional family and the love that seeps through and finds a way of making amends. The reveal in the story, which is the circumstances surrounding the younger son’s death, I found a bit trite and clumsy.
There were a couple of things that struck me though. Nomhle is a veteran. An old veteran. She still has it; in chunks, and she is dynamic, charming and entertaining. But she falters. Not so you’d notice, but definitely enough to affect the rhythm of the play. And I thought playing Mama was just a bit too big for her. Don’t get me wrong. She is amazing. I just felt like it was hard for her. And that made it a bit hard for me. Sticks I loved. And Pakamisa. And Roshina, who I think is a fantastic actress.
I do think though, that if you have two oldies on stage like that (and Sticks has a vrot leg) make the set more actor and oldie friendly. Yo, they were up and down the high front and back every five minutes and it felt like such hard work.
I loved Mbulelo Samby‘s choice of music.
As we came down the steep stairs after the show I started getting butterflies. I’m up next and my arse is on the line. I start rehearsing The Tent tomorrow and our showcase performs on the 5 and 6 of December. There. In Artscape’s Arena. I get hysterical just thinking about it.