Pros: Engaging, uncomfortable and unpredictable. A heartbreaking story beautifully told in performance and word.
Cons: Some sections could be told more succinctly without loosing any power.
Watching a show behind barbed wire was a new experience, and the unusual set piece in Two Sheds’ production of My Children! My Africa! was powerful a creative and powerful metaphor throughout the splendid performancw.
It’s 1984 South Africa. Isabel is a white, privileged South African who has been sent with her girls’ school debating team to show the debating team of the local black school ‘how it is done’. As it turns out, it is she who receives the education.
Invigorated by her tête-à-tête with her opponent Thami and his genuinely enthusiastic, if not somewhat bumbling teacher, Mr M, she is opened to a rich and authentic new world. A friendship between the three easily ensues, but it is not without one rather unexpected tension. Rather than a focus on the struggle between black and white, the tension resides within the black community: between old, traditional values and young, angry voices; between a desire to influence change through knowledge and words and the desire to start a revolution through action.
In the world of the play, that barbed wire not only separates black from white, but from the local community, from the world and, from hope – or so it feels.
Directors Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington’s production of Athol Fugard’s play, not seen in London for 25 years, is heart-wrenchingly stirring giving voice to South African struggles both internal and external that ironically are no different from those that any colour of person of any generations had had to wrestle with: do I listen to reason or passion?
As Isabel, Rose Reynolds convincingly plays a rosy-cheeked, optimistic and liberally-minded eighteen year old who is wise beyond her years with great sincerity, while Nathan Ives-Moiba’s devotion to the portrayal of a complicated young Thami full of inner turmoil, frustration and rage is both admiral and compelling. Anthony Ofoegbu is a lovable and sometimes frightening Mr M who breaks your heart with his an unfulfilled hope for the future of his ‘children’ and almost scares you with the intensity of that hope and his determination that it should never fade.
Nancy Surman’s set design presents an eerie acknowledgment of times past with separate ‘Black’ and ‘White’ exits and entrances, while Jack Weir’s lighting design augments urgency just at the right moments.
Very little could undermine the power of this piece and the brilliance with which it is delivered. However, I think it is fair to mention that monologues by all three characters could be just as, if not more, powerful if put more succinctly. Though since the play has so many wise and important points to make, this can be easily forgiven. Erin Witton’s sound design does not always quite match the moment and its delivery does require some finesse.
Still, this does not overshadow a stunning, provocative and touching production of an eminent work. I will say it again: a must see!
Director: Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington
Author: Athol Fugard
Producer: Two Sheds
Booking Until: 16 May 2015
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/my-children-my-africa