By M’kariko Amagulu
“The great Americans have Bill Clinton,
we Namibians have Sam Nujoma
The great Americans have Stevie Wonder,
we Namibians have No Wonders
The great Americans had Bob Hope,
we Namibians have No Hope
The great Americans had Johnny Cash
we Namibians have No Cash”
Yes, as a nation we have been born penni-less
and will in all like-lihood die penniless…
Queenie (portrayed by Filicity Celento), the main character in the play expresses frustrations in the contemporary stage play, Papland.
Last weekend, I was yet again given the opportunity to go and see another one of local playwright Frederick Brian Philander’s plays, Papland.
The play was a satirical comedy depicting the current political, social and economic standing of Namibia from the perspective of a common Namibian person, the main character, Queenie. Through her monologues she reflected on the many issues affecting the Namibian nation, such as economic immigrants, crime, unemployment, corruption and the current political climate.
The central theme of the play is unemployment that forces many people into informal trading, such as Queenie, who sells ‘Pap’ meals on a street corner in order to earn a living. She tells us how she ended up running this business and talks about the everyday struggles, just to earn a living.
Also touching on the fact that in Namibia people such as herself are already struggling, but have to compete with economic immigrants from neighbouring countries and have to put up with the many regulations of the municipalities on where to and where not to sell – which hinders their progress in improving their livelihoods.
To make the play more varied, Philander introduced characters into the play to emphasise situations such as the role that he played as a hawker from Cape town, a role which was very convincing, in the use of language as well as body movement.
Other roles were portrayed by Basil De Walt (Actor of the year in the 2007 NTN theatre awards) and Richard Swartz, who both played botsotsos. Through these characters the play rationalises why it is people steal and why crime is increasing. “I relieve the rich to give to the poor, ‘cheaper’,” was one of the explanations given.
There was also a touch on the late pension payouts and the suffering of old people because of the system by introducing an old character, who stops by Queenie’s stall and manages to manipulate her into giving him food, while being teased by the two street vagabonds.
The stage set-up was simple, but fitted the scene at which all the action took place. The costumes suited the characters and were typical of the characters that were being depicted. The acting was brilliant and I enjoyed the whole play as it was not left to being strictly serious, but was comical with every second or third line used. A number of audience members on the final night could not contain themselves, and would burst into a never-ending chorus of laughter.
Undoubtedly, Philander worked hard on this play and therefore also included the current political situation such as the newly established party, Rally for Democracy and Progress and the debates on the failed and/or failing government institutions. Additionally, Papland voiced issues that, in my opinion, are on most Namibians’ minds; the many public holidays, the attitude of police towards hawkers, strikes and the social issues and problems of veterans.
Philander really did it for me with this play, as I related better with the play, as it was issues that I could identify with. I believe that a play such as Papland can begin a process to a revolution of the majority proletariat, as issues are given to the audience through another party, which may hopefully raise the conscious mind of the Namibian people, rich or poor, unemployed or employed, old or young, public or private to begin the processes of discussing and trying to work together towards finding solutions to the many problems plaguing the Namibian society.
Overall, the script, the directing, the acting, the characterisation and the actors was fantastic and for the first time I can say that I sat through over an hour-and-a-half watching and enjoying a fine play.
I therefore would like to commend Philander once again for his energy, passion and persistence in getting theatre seen.
However, it was sad to note, having attended three out of four of this incredible playwright’s works that after putting so much energy into writing the scripts, recruiting actors, directing the plays and presenting them, there is so little support for theatre from the public.
It is my sincere hope that this will change and we will see more Namibians begin to appreciate this fine art of role characterisation not only to relax but also to begin debates and discussion forums of everyday issues that are affecting us Namibians.
Lastly, how do Namibians’ hope to develop theatre culture and promote the arts industry when so little appreciation goes into supporting the sector? Even with a healthy talented base in the arts, be it in the visual, literature or performing arts, where can one go if one’s own nation is not supportive?
I find it very sad that most of the arts activities are mostly attended by foreign nationals and if by Namibians, by relatives and friends of people involved in the acts. We need to support what is ours and assist in its development. Therefore, I am encouraging my fellow Namibians to begin supporting the arts in all their forms. I can assure you that you will be amazed at the huge talent that we have.