Friday, February 26, 2010

Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking

Ben Evans at Oval House has brought a show over from South Africa - I was at the Press Night yesterday. The company is Magnet Theatre from Cape Town. The play has a wonderful title - Every Year, Every Day, I am Walking - and that title is horribly appropriate to the theme of displaced people. As the richest country on the African continent (though I bet that's sometimes pretty hard to remember in Soweto), South Africa is the goal for most African refugees. I'd heard quite a lot about the Zimbabwean exodus to South Africa: the characters in this play come from a Francophone country - it's not specified which one.

And, in a way, that's my concern about the piece. It's very sympathetic in its portrayal of refugees, and it's very theatrical - but the characters are just refugees... we don't know from what, or from where, or how the political or cultural or social meltdown which displaced them occurred. And so the play becomes sentimental - it doesn't allow us to be moved to action, only to pity. It doesn't allow us to feel in any way implicated. And we are.

Because of this, all the theatricality (and there's lots, and it's impressive) doesn't really work for me. It's not in the service of real storytelling - it looks whizzkidding. I probably would be more positive about it, except that I've been studying a lot of work about refugees recently for a new MA Module I'm creating for Rose Bruford, and I've come to feel that contextualising the stories, as well as allowing the refugees to be heard, is crucial. The best example is Mnouchkine's Le Dernier Caravanserail. When I met her, she said that play was "A punch on the nose. For everybody."

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