Play: The Forgotten Children
Director/ Playwright:Jacques Mushaandja
Cast: University of Namibia students
Review: Frederick B. Philander
Experimental ‘student theatre’ with all its ramifications came alive last week at the National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) with the staging of the play, The Forgotten Children, as part of its Theatre Zone Competition.
This particular production unwillingly and mentally took me back to the time and era at the annual Grahams Town Arts Festival, which for years catered for many such mundane student productions in a protective manner. However, it was an exciting period in experimental drama department academic theatre in which ‘anything experimental’ went from the best to the mediocre. I should know because I have attended that festival for twelve years running with my own stage works. This local production was the same, and really no exception in directing and or acting.
The directing of the work, with experienced theatre personality and University of Namibia (Unam) lecturer, Tania Terreblanche, at the helm as production mentor, did not at all do justice to the play. It came across as a flimsy and fragmented, primarily not workable and amateurishly concocted theatre piece that just couldn’t gel as a structural unit. In fact the directorial approach vividly reminded me of a 30 years old concept applied in plays such as Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena adapted by the famous actress, Sandra Kotze.
Using minimal stage props and a boring actor turn-around concept, facing the audience in performance and then turning backs on them, was definitely not at all the way to go. In fact it was predictable and silly, not the right creative option. Also present was the now well known boring cube use in of yester year, basically all Unam students’ productions I have seen over the years.
The young student actors in the lead male roles, Jean-Louis Knouwds, and Mwalenga Nighipumwa, delivered well balanced and lively projected performances all round. There is a lot of latent stage talent in need of being explored in more productions. It was good to see actress Lynn Jacobs in a stage production after her performances in Hello and Goodbye. She delivered a plausible but rather subdued characterisation as the mother of the white boy. Andreas Lenga as the feminist male student was very convincing in the part so was Ndinimholo Ndilula in the role of the father.
All in all there has been too much tale telling in narrative, (in parallel format to show both sides of the Namibian cultural equation, past and present), script padding but little showing in play structure. The real climax of the play, the tender and passion kiss between the two young people, so totally creatively got messed up by all sorts of enforced dancing/mating gimmicks in a concerted effort to downplay the kiss. It was definitely not delayed for a better impact because that expected impact fell flat.
I was hoping the play would built up and develop like that great Market Theatre stage production of Othello I witnessed three decades ago with the first South African black man in it kissing a white woman over the colour line. John Kani in the lead role with actress Johanna Weinberger opposite him, then delivered an impeccable and convincing performance with a convincing kiss that shattered the Apartheid syndrome of a kiss-across the colour line on stage then. This production was then hailed as historic and a door opener for future multiracial plays in South Africa until today.
The kiss in The Forgotten Children would have sufficed to bring the play to a dramatic closure, and the house down in awe, but got lost in creative translation, misunderstanding and wrong interpretation. Instead the ‘jolly-nice typical student experimental production’ was allowed to drag on with a lot of narrative telling, which did not at all creatively contributed towards the play. That is how I will remember it, an ordinary one of a number of student productions.
I think the time of moralising with narratives at the end of plays is too dictating, old fashioned and should be prevented from being used for the sake of good contemporary Namibian theatre development.