Saturday, April 23, 2016

I See You

I watched I See You at the Royal Court Theatre and give it a 4/5 rating.

The play, though set in post-apartheid South Africa, does find resonance across the globally confused young people of today.

It's a strong story line, introducing us to our posh African teenager Benjamin who meets Skinn, a local white girl living rough. She is more South African than he is, though judging by the looks people tend to think he is. They have a run in with the cops and there is a little of the insight into the politics within the system and the power the police have over the general public. But that's not the main story. Our cop Buthelezi  was a freedom fighter and fought against white people. And then he runs into Ben, with an English name and unable to speak his monger tongue. Buthelezi calls Ben a white boy and hates him for not being thankful for his freedom and becoming Anglicised. And Ben to begin with is just confused. The stand off between them escalates until the boy gives up because he just wants to go home.

But before he gives in, the boy 'sees' Buthelezi and he tells him that. He says I see you. What he sees is a ghost from the past, because Buthelezi died on the battlefield and never really returned. So according to the boy, only other ghosts like his African inside him can see the ghost that Buthelezi was. It makes sense. People tend to look for a past that gave them more meaning than the present. But after that I lose the narrative. The boy keeps telling Buthelezi that he loves him and reason is that he cannot say anything else.

For a small set and a small space, they've delivered well. I would have given it a 5 rating if not for the ending where the narrative tries to get something deep but falls flat instead.

Les Blancs

I watched Les Blancs at The National Theatre and give it a 5/5 rating.

After watching I See You, I was looking forward to watching Les Blancs because it is play about the world of settlers or the colonisers in a remote village in Africa and because it is playing at the Olivier Theatre.

The story is written elegantly with so many versions of the truth such that the truth becomes your own. The play is largely set in a village missionary clinic set up by the settlers.

The Truth is not defined by the colour of your skin. There are white people who believe this missionary is providing faith as well as medicine to these villagers. There are also white people who see this missionary as patronising and are dejected that they are party to it. There are black people who believe in the missionary at its purpose and there are those who want to fight for freedom. And then there are the others, who are black and white and understand that this difference is down to human beings and not the colour of the skin (as one character says, he has seen Ann Frank's attic). Our most sensible character, Tshembe, is also our least passionate because reason is stronger.
And yet it is him that Africa hugs because the love for your country is unshakeable, even if you have left it and created a life elsewhere. He doesn't want to take sides. What is it worth taking sides in a war that will burn the country no matter who lit the fire first.

The play ends with the set, the village missionary clinic, set on fire!

For Olivier, I think the sets were used less. But I suppose I said this the last time I watched a play at Olivier as well. I can't expect every set to use all that there is available to use at the Olivier. The set on fire and extinguished at will was indeed mesmerising.

Sheila Atim was purely haunting. She walks with such elegance dragging on the burden of colonial exploitation with pain but not dejection. She plays the spirit of Africa. She has no lines. Come to think of it the African women have no voice. Only women to have lines are the white doctor and madame, the lady who runs the missionary with her husband. Subtle but strong on the writer's part.

Danny Sapani as Tshembe was convincing and brilliant. Actually all the actors are remarkable, be it Eric kid who lost his way or the Martha with her blindness to her own racism.

It is a heartfelt production and one for the awards, in my opinion. You can still catch it at the National Theatre.