An Alternative Look At Apartheid Struggles In Ambitious Play
Taking on the complicated subject of apartheid with a cast of just three actors is ambitious, but Athol Fugard's My Children! My Africa! does just that — and does it very well.
Isabel (Rose Reynolds) is a white girl living in a town in South Africa. Her school partners with a boys' school in The Location — a black township on the outskirts of The Town — during South Africa's apartheid. The play opens with headstrong Isabel going up against Thami (Nathan Ives-Moiba) in a school debate about what rights women should have in modern Africa. The intention? For her and her white, well-to-do peers, to give the boys an education. In reality, it's her who receives the education.
Their brief encounter awakens Isabel's curiosity about black culture, and she soon finds herself forming a genuine friendship with Thami and his teacher Mr M (Anthony Ofoegbu), and bearing witness to the struggles of the black community.
So far, so predictable, but don't get too comfy. This isn't another play about black vs white in apartheid-era South Africa. Rather, it's about unrest between members of the black community. Mr M believes that education, even the 'inferior' Bantu education, is the way for Thami and his peers to succeed in the world. Thami isn't so sure, and looks for other ways to achieve freedom.
The set barely changes throughout the whole two-hour performance, Mr M's classroom forming the backdrop of the majority of interactions between the characters. Yet far from making the action dull, the consistency intensifies it — the classroom represents the only place that the three of them can speak freely. Watching the action through barbed wire segregates the audience, bringing the reality of apartheid into the theatre.
With such a small cast, there's little room for error on the part of the actors, yet their dynamic performances never falter. It's no surprise that all three have been nominated for an Off West End award for their performances in this production. From scenes of compassion to blazing rows, the pace never falters.
All photos by Boris Mitkov.
Last Updated 11 August 2015