Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Fatima Dike

The Incredibly Long Quiet Violence of Dreams

Off to Artscape’s Arena theatre I went last night for the opening night of the play adaptation of K. Sello Duiker‘s book The Quiet Violence of Dreams, adapted into a play by Ashraf Johaardien, which was as long as this sentence! The Siyasanga company in association with Artscape presented it, with Fatima Dike directing the sexy, young cast of Fikile Mahola, Richard Lothian, Chiedza Mhende, Pierre Malherbe, Lee Roodt and Chris Gxalaba.

I have such mixed, and even conflicting thoughts and feelings about this production. I suppose that could be good, but I’m not sure. The story is about a young man who struggles with mental illness, all wrapped up with his struggle with his identity, who ends up on the road to a semblance of stability after finding himself working as a rent boy in a Cape Town massage parlour. The play explores the seedy, underbelly (I hate that word) of Cape Town in the shadow of its wealth, glamour and tourist shine. Maybe I’ve been reading too many crime novels set in Cape Town but it seems that everybody is digging around in its seedy underbelly (that word again).

One of the things I loved best about the script were the casual mentions of all things Cape Town. I know the city so well I was able to place the date of the play by the mention of The Piano Lounge. Cape Town was beautifully captured, from a drama student’s flat, to an ex-con’s Sea Point place, to a room in Valkenberg. I always knew I was watching a story that was unfolding right here, in this city, with the comings and goings of a group of young people, and how fraught, complicated and contradictory their lives are.

So what’s the problem? So far so good, it seems. Well, firstly, the play was longer than Mamma Mia! Two very long acts, with a lot of scenes that felt like repeats. There has to be a better way to chop and cut it down. Then there was the very well justified but seriously old-fashioned graphic sex and nudity and sexual violence. I certainly wasn’t the only one in the audience who found this awkward and embarrassing, and that is different from being challenged and finding it uncomfortable. It was clumsy, unsexy and cringe worthy.

Some riveting scenes of drama, like the strange scenes and interesting dialogue between the Falkenberg inmates, the weird scenes with the protagonist Tshepo (Fikile Mahola) and his father (Chris Gxalaba), and the quirky, short but powerful scene where Tshepo loses his waitering job, were interspersed with interminable, repetitive scenes, minute in their detail of naturalism.

Then there was the furniture; the endless, moving around of these big heavy blocks of the set in between scenes. Endless.

I enjoyed watching all the performers. I love Pierre Malherbe, and the characters he played were different, interesting and engaging. I found Lee Roodt strange and magnetic. I thought Chiedza Mhende was gorgeous if a bit one dimensional, but that could have been Mmabatho, the character she played. Fikile Mahola was fantastic as Tshepo the protagonist. He was clear, emotional and convincing. But I remained totally unmoved by the story, and the comings and goings of this little bunch of lives.

It’s entirely possible that this story is a bit dated; it sits in the steam room heydays of Cape Town in the early nineties, so what it needs is a different approach. Perhaps a more consistent stylisation that would bring it onto that big, white open canvass of the set? Perhaps a more descriptive approach to the sex, without us having to watch every last bulge, bum wobble, funny undies and performer having to do it all? It feels like it is just trying too hard to be controversial and dangerous, but we’ve been there. And done that. And it’s been better.

The Return

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.

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