Having now caught Amajuba in its West End transfer, I’m left with equal amounts of admiration but rather less enthusiasm than my Oxford colleague (see below).
As an example of theatre as a means of individual and social expression, Amajuba is powerful stuff. Writer and director Yael Farber worked with the cast to develop what is, in essence, a series of interactive monologues recounting the actors’ childhoods as part of the ‘lost generation’ growing up at the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa.
Such an incredibly personal association with the material means that you never for a moment doubt the commitment of any of the five players, all clad in black t-shirts, jeans and trainers, sprinting through the performance as one well-oiled ensemble. Nor can you fail to be impressed by their superior stagecraft in conjuring up their dusty township worlds using just their bodies, voices (often beautifully lifted in song) and minimal props – a few washbasins, blankets, some books, shoes and hats.
Ironically, however, the company’s intimacy with the piece also acts as something of an Achilles’ heel dramatically. “There’s nothing special about these stories,” says one of the actors in introduction and, for large parts of the evening, I was left thinking the same thing. That’s not only a reflection of the stories themselves – including horrific admissions of abandonment, hunger, gang rape and murder – but of the simplistically skimmed over, multi-lingual nature of their telling.
Most disappointingly, unless you count the commentary in the programme, there’s scant attempt to ground the stories within the larger historical and political context of a troubled country which, as the play’s grandiose top-and-tail pronouncements remind us, can only truly move forward by first looking back.
- Terri Paddock (reviewed at the West End’s Criterion Theatre)
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from July 2004 and this production’s earlier UK tour.
There is a continuing appetite in this country for black South African drama; it is fresh, energetic, involving and powerful. This show is no exception.
Amajuba is a selection of tales of the old, apartheid, South Africa told through the eyes of children. Each black child had a different upbringing, starving in a remote village, living in Soweto, re-located by the government, etc. But each saw and suffered things children should not be asked to bear. Through the small individual tales we are given an insight into the big picture, statistics and news stories are distilled to the painful experiences of the participants and we are given a window into the suffering and wrongs they endured.
But this is not a maudlin show, it is one filled with hope. The characters do not apologise for showing us their pain nor do they ask for our pity, they simply tell us how it was, confronting their past in order to accept their present and fight for their future. More than that, this is not just a set of random stories, these are based on real stories from the lives of these particular actors, and at times there are tears in their eyes as they tell us and ours as we listen.
Conceived and directed by Yael Farber and written in collaboration with the cast this production of storytelling and music is filled with passion. The cast of Tshallo Chokwe, France Conradie, Bongeka Mpongwana, Philip Tindisa and Jabulile Tshabalala work exceptionally hard and it is no surprise to learn that the Mmabana Arts, Culture and Sports Federation includes a gym; these are very fit actors who give their all to the performance.
With the exception of two sound effects they provide all the songs, music and sounds required themselves, quite a feat as they rush around, never leaving the stage and using the few props to great effect. I shall remember some of the images created by this group for a long time, particularly the final sequence.
At the end there was a deserved standing ovation, and a chance to meet the cast and director. I left the theatre humming the songs and thinking about how people can use injustice and oppression to find such positive messages. Not bad for a 90 minute night out.
- Robert Iles (reviewed at the Oxford Playhouse Theatre)