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Posts Tagged ‘Noma Dumezweni’

This co-production with Johannesburg’s Market Theatre covers new ground in examining post-apartheid South Africa. I found Mongiwekhaya’s play both original and fascinating.

Ben and Skinn are stopped by the police on suspicion of drink driving. Ben is a young black university student. He doesn’t speak an African language. He wasn’t even born when apartheid ended. Skinn is a young white South African girl, much more streetwise and edgy. Officer Buthelezi, a former freedom fighter, who has stopped them, has both personal issues and a resentment of aspects of the new South Africa.

Back in the police station, Ben seeks to assert his rights whilst Buthelezi makes it clear what he thinks of young black people behaving like whites, rather violently, whilst his colleagues collude or turn a blind eye. We learn more about his personal issues as the power games unfold inside the police station and Skinn begins a search for Ben outside it, after an initial false trail set by Buthelezi.

We don’t hear much about post-apartheid social impact in the black community, which makes the piece particularly welcome. To its credit, it seeks to explain rather than take sides, though Buthelezi is an unsympathetic character and Ben a sympathetic one, both played passionately by Desmond Dube and Bayo Gbadamosi respectively. I also very much admired  Jordan Baker’s performance as the brittle Skinn. This is actress Noma Dumezweni’s directorial debut and her staging draws you in, in this intimate space.

Good to see an international collaboration like this at the Royal Court. Recommended.

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Penelope Skinner’s new play explores ‘body fascism’ through the life of Linda, a successful, award winning businesswoman. Though it takes a while to take off, and it didn’t quite sustain its 2h 40m length, it’s a worthwhile play exploring an important subject in a very interesting way.

Linda is Marketing Director for a cosmetics company and she’s responsible for making them global players and taking them in a new direction with anti-ageing products. Her boss and colleagues revere her and she’s happily married with two daughters. Then her life begins to fall apart. Her husband has a brief fling with a much younger girl. An ambitious and somewhat Machiavellian employee sets her up for an indiscretion and subsequently ensures it goes viral, just like she did for her daughter when they were both at school. Within this narrative there is a lot of stuff about attitudes to the female body, ageing and the way women are treated in comparison to men.  I felt some of the message was a touch heavy-handed and the play a shade melodramatic in tone, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Es Devlin has created another of her extraordinary designs, this time a multi-level revolving white structure which sits in a pool of water and contains multiple rooms at home and office. I think it’s meant to symbolise the company’s name – Swan – whose motto is ‘Changing the world, one girl at a time’. The all pervading muzak and bright glitzy corporate look are just as cringe-worthy as the motto. This design has given director Michael Longhurst full reign for an imaginative staging which gets dramatically expressionistic towards the end.

Linda is a big part and Noma Dumezweni only had a week to learn it. She sometimes refers to pieces of script, but this hardy distracts as she carries them like normal documents at work and home. It’s a Herculean task which she pulls off with great style to give a fine performance. I was also impressed by Amy Beth Hayes ice cool turn as her nemesis Amy.

Though it has its flaws, it’s amongst the best of the Court’s recent crop of new main house plays.

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This was my first (long overdue) visit to Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space. As it happens the play didn’t actually start there, but in a ‘pop up’ university lecture room in the foyer where Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela recalls her visits to prison to interview Eugene de Kock after his appearances at the South African Truth & Reconciliation hearings. As she begins to describe her arrival in prison for the first time, we walk into it and take our places peering into the cell where they meet.

de Kock was known as ‘Prime Evil’ and Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and member of the commission, is fascinated by him. During the hearings he asked to meet his victims families privately so that he could apologise. This initiative, and the expressions of forgiveness by the families, struck many and led to more meetings between perpetrators of crimes and victim’s families. It also led to Gobodo-Madikizela’s desire to understand de Kock and those like him. For the rest of the play we are with them, on two occasions six years apart, with just the occasional presence of a prison guard.

I’ve always been in awe of the concept and execution of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, convinced that I personally could never find the capacity to understand or forgive, but understanding both its power and importance. The play isn’t really about that though; it’s a peep into the mind of ‘Prime Evil’ in an attempt to understand the motivation and events behind horrific crimes.

It does prove to be a voyeuristic experience, thanks to the cell bars of Paul Wills’ design and intensity created by lights and sound, but it’s the intensity of the performances that allow you to examine and attempt to understand at an objective psychological level. Matthew Marsh (is he the most hard-working stage actor we have?) conveys a cold intelligence, seemingly devoid of any feeling or emotion with a spot-on Afrikaan accent that makes your flesh crawl recalling hearing accents like it in the past. Nomer Dumerzweni brilliantly conveys Gobodo-Madikizela’s forensic approach and suppressed horror.

Nicholas Wright has adapted Gobodo-Madikizela’s book and Jonathan Munby has staged it well to give us a very thought-provoking and insightful 80 minutes and a somehow appropriate companion piece to The Arrest of Ai WeiWei upstairs.

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