Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mrs. Mandela

It seems to be a bit of a Mandela moment. The tubes are covered with posters for the new film Invictus, in which Morgan Freeman will at last give his long-mooted performance as the great man. Relief that it's not a bio-pic: there's so much more the medium of film can do with a specific event. Which said, last night's broadcast of the BBC's Mrs. Mandela was a really interesting approach to the bio-pic problem. By avoiding chronology, the film was able to make powerful links between moments in Winnie's life - most strikingly at the end, when it cut between her being brutally interrogated by Swanepoel and her own attack on the child Stompie. Seeing the film took me right back into our own work on this material - some years ago now. The project, which is a music theatre piece, is still bubbling away on the back burner, and has a libretto - it just needs music and backing! Jeremy Silver, Eugene Skeef and I have had a few serious chats about it... Maybe now is the moment. But I am so snowed under with getting the Trilogy kick-started that I honestly can't find the time.

Like Mrs. Mandela, our piece begins with the iconic moment of Mandela's release. In our case, we also end with it - but hopefully the audience will view it very differently after what's happened in between. Many moments are the same - Swanepoel, Stompie, Mandela asking Winnie about the boy's death... But in our version the gritty realism of the film is replaced with the theatrical, as the form requires. My note to myself watching the film, and especially Sophie Okenedo's incredible performance, was to avoid any hint of sentimentality. Which is what the film did so well.

I've just come from a meeting with George Zhang, who runs the Confucius Centre at SOAS. He's excited by the exchange we're doing with China, and we're finding some really interesting ways to co-operate. He tells me that Shanghai was his home city - but that "The city of my childhood no longer exists". I ask him when he left, and he says 1971. That's right in the thick of the Cultural Revolution. "Yes", he says: "and we went back every year. It was quite a way to spend my formative years..."

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