Play Missed Chances and opportunities

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By Frederick Philander Play Review Theatre directing is considered to be the most creative challenging part in the presentation of any worthy stage play production, albeit professional, amateur and/or academic. It is my considered opinion that the director of Valley Song did not creatively enough explore the multitude opportunities this script of Athol Fugard offered him. I got the distinct impression that he was focusing too much on the stage setup, a caged live animal and all, rather than directing the challenging piece of theatre. I was honoured to have attended the same work’s premiere at the Market Theatre in 1996. Compared to what I saw then of the creative approach by director Manie Manim and that of Norbert van Wyk last week at the Space Theatre at the University of Namibia, I consider the stage setup as the most outstanding part of this specific production. Manim’s interpretation of the play was limited to an empty stage, whereas the visual dimensionality of this production made more creative sense. To this end Van Wyk should be congratulated for script interpretation. However, many established and would-be play directors have in the past misread the wordy texts of Fugard – stifling and inhibiting their own creativity. This production was no exception. I got the distinct impression it was a forced academic effort to dutifully bring to life the written text of a famous and respected playwright within the realms and criteria of academia. Small wonder a female adjudicator almost jumped out of her skin in her praise for the production after the first night performance. Those in the know would agree with me that student productions are not always the best stage works on display anywhere, be it local or at festivals elsewhere. However, once such productions are publicly staged, they become part of the public domain and are not judged as student products, but real theatre. Valley Song became such a product, deliberately or involuntary, because a door fee was charged. What bothered me most as a playwright is the following: the director used too little of his own creative insight for a deeper understanding and interpretation of the text. He was probably too hesitant about the many opportunities and creative challenges the timeless work offered himself and similarly the semi-professional cast. Majiedt is a Unam student studying to become a church pastor. The undertone in the drama is undoubtedly the land issue experienced through the eyes of South African Coloured people. This is one of the most contentious issues that has never been properly explored and addressed from a Coloured perspective. The historic issue has primarily been highlighted by playwrights Adam Small in Afrikaans works such as Kanna Hy Ko Hystoe and Joanie Gallant-Hulle. Fugard is a known fighter for the rights of South African Blacks and Coloureds especially in a classic stage work such as Boesman and Lena. Selecting this particular script to attain his Master of Arts in theatre directing might well have been too much of a choice in my opinion, considering the numerous flaws and mistakes I observed during the performance of the work. Technically the light changes came across too forced, predictable and somehow mistimed, not excelling the pace and tempo of the work, but rather slowing it down unnecessary, especially towards the end. Characterization also came across rather superfluous, lacking depth, nuances and proper inter- and ensemble playacting. Despite some sporadic above average acting highs by both actors, they in my view remained unconvincing figures as Buks and Veronica. There was too much showing instead of living the characters on stage. As his second role portrayal in a full-length English drama after a part in an Afrikaans/English play titled Haufiko, years ago, Majiedt didn’t do that badly. However, what peeved me off is the fact that he on a number of occasions stumbled over the rather simple English. The least he could have done was learn by heart the lines and words as set out in the script. Majiedt was also not consistent in his character and didn’t really convince me of his acting abilities to master such a complex character, which he sometimes over-played for audience appeal – and what an audience there was. Too many instances of wrong language use marred his performance and please, don’t tell me that “English is not really our language”. Poor pronunciation, past and present tenses as well as the disturbing incorrect use of verbs abounded in the dialogue by Majiedt. Fugard is also known for writing a mixture of Afrikaans and English, but that doesn’t excuse any actor not to use it correctly. With all due respect, and this is not aimed at settling a score, something I am normally accused of when reviewing local plays, I think Majiedt should stick to Afrikaans plays, where he excels, both in acting and writing. Make sure you see his Afrikaans drama, Lammie Beukes, next week at the Warehouse Theatre. From my own theatrical perspective, I would have thought that a third character could have been brought in as the all-knowing and telling narrator in the drama. This would have afforded Majiedt a greater chance to have primarily focused and concentrated on his role as the main character, Buks. Director Van Wyk, allegedly more conversant in church nativity play directing, also missed some golden opportunities regarding the actions and movements of the characters. When going mentally down memory lane about his past life and that of his late wife’s (at one stage Majiedt really emotionally excelled but it immediately fell flat again), Buks could have been shifted around more meaningfully to emphasize the gist of the dialogue. Instead he came over as rather too static and forced in some of the scene. Acting is all about movement and dialogue complementing each other as a unit and not passivity. Without sensible and proper movements on stage and the correct use of dialogue, playacting can be not so fulfilling. Talented Senga Brokerhoff virtually also struggled to get off the ground in her portrayal of Veronica. Majiedt never really offered her something to act around, except for the fact that he was rambling on in dialogue. The obvious absence of nuances and proper interplay is the mistake of the director, who experienced problems with this part of the creative process, something that can probably be blamed on lack of experience. There is no doubt in my mind that Senga has the potential to develop into a fine bilingual Namibian actress, given more opportunities and greater character challenges. I am of the opinion that there exists latent theatre directing skills and inherent abilities that can be positively developed if Norbert van Wyk is responsive to constructive criticism. The theatre fraternity needs good and properly trained directors to help improve the quality of Namibian theatre The play is to be performed again on April 5 and 6 as part of the Bank Windhoek annual festival. Go see for yourself. The production might by then have been improved on!

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