Play: The Mole People
Playwright: Frederick B. Philander
Reviewer: M’kariko Amagulu
Lights are turned out, the room is silent and dark, finally gun shots are heard, overhead the sounds of a helicopter and dropping bombs are heard, when someone puts on a lantern and a light suddenly shines from what appears to be an underground cell. As the surrounding sounds die down and the night is denoted by the sound of crickets, a guard appears shining his torch around the camp and screams for the person to switch off the light, which the person promptly does.
That is the opening scene of the locally renowned playwright, Frederick Brian Philanders’ play the ‘Mole People’, which deals with the writer’s opinion of what the incarceration of people during the ‘liberation struggle’ was like.
Philander aims to use the play to open up dialogue on a subject that has until now been hushed, although there have been calls to discuss it.
The cast was composed of various actors who showed their talents during the play, more notably Armas Shivute who had multiple roles and was able to step into each character with such ease and in such a convincing manner that the audience had no problem confusing the characters.
Shivute played the suspected spy, who having been educated in the USSR, married a ‘white woman’, glorified Fidel Castro and followed the teachings of Karl Marx, is suspected of having been a spy. On his return to the front he is arrested by the movement’s secret agents and taken to the incarceration camp to be charged with the crime, which appears to be in fact based on his education, his marriage and ideals. Armas who played a convincing freedom fighter, with a vision of liberating his country, tries to make the guards and agents understand that he is not a spy. That is until his spirit is finally broken by the sassy and cruel guards played by Richard Swartz and Tjireya Hipikuruka, who lessened the seriousness of the play with their comic displays of the guards on duty. Shivute also pulled of the role of the Supreme Commander well, where he spoke in Namlish, which seemed to keep the audience in stitches.
Maria Guriras, who played the role of Beauty, the Camp Commander’s incarcerated girlfriend, who got gang-raped by the guards, also gave a strong and convincing performance, which could have gotten more compassion from the audience. However, the compassion was diminished by the guard played by Tjireya Hipikuruka, who rather seemed like a Mr Bean on steroids and who really tried too hard to get laughs at the wrong moments in the play.
Hipikuruka who also played Captain Danger really confused the reviewer, as he spoke with what was supposed to be an Afrikaans accent, which was found to be rather confusing for the setting and inspiration of the play.
The secret agents played by Ronald Krotz and Milton Hochobeb, was characteristic of the ‘Men in Black’, in designer suits from the 21st Century.
Hochobeb, adorned in obvious huge studs and who could not hide his femininity in a tight designer suit dripped oestrogen, as he swayed across the stage waving his hands delicately in the air. Both actors failed to impress, and made me believe that it must have been their first time in a play of such a caliber.
The camp commander, played by Basil Dewaldt lacked depth and strength of character and was overshadowed by the acting of Mengis Kamsay and Isaak Amupolo, who played short roles as the escapee prisoners.
The play was further worsened by what appeared to be an intoxicated actor, who played as one of the guards. The said actor could not hold together and would smile unusually or stare into the air trying very hard to carry through his role, which was unfortunately privileged with a short dialogue with the camp commander.
Additionally, some of the references in the play did not tie together with the time of the play, such as Independence Avenue, which was at that time Kaiser Street, the use of language, sangoma, which is a South African word and Mandela as an icon; he really became an icon after his release from prison. The linguistics in the play continued to baffle the audience, with continuous modern swearing and the use of words such as adios amigos and fuckers.
Therefore, one failed to connect emotionally with the incarceration issue, an issue, which is largely seen to be a very sensitive issue in Namibia.
Nevertheless, the set up, lights and sound effects used in the play were realistic and added a much-needed dimension to the seriousness of the play.
Philander’s plays, which are unquestionably necessary, would have more depth and seriousness if thorough research is conducted around the topics at hand. The same goes for actors in a country like Namibia, where artists are still trying to get respectable recognition.
Actors should know that they can make or break a play, in this case the intoxicated actor (Guard 3) and the lack of seriousness, as requested from some of the characters, did unjust to the play, which can not be blamed on the director.
Nonetheless, I commend Philander for being the first playwright; actor and director for creating a play that is unique to the Namibian stage scene, for daring to go where others yet to go. Philander undertakes to record and teach Namibian historical events through displays of his undisputed theatrical talent.