Afrovibes Festival, along with Curious Monkey, offers a dazzling look into another culture with their jubilant and unifying piece ‘Mamela’ (Listen). The show, which was three and a half years in the making, highlights the stories of ordinary South African women from the post-apartheid or ‘born-free’ generation. One hundred and twenty women were interviewed initially, ultimately whittled down to the seven we saw onstage last night; all but three of which were retelling their own personal tales of joy and hardship in this audacious piece of verbatim theatre.
Their views on everything from men to politics, their ordeals, their community – what stands out is the fact they could be from anywhere. The relatable nature of the group made it not so much a show about South Africa but about looking out of your window and realising we all have the same hang-ups, no matter where we’re from. The only aspects of the show to give it a sense of national identity were the song breaks, showcasing traditional music and poetry. Spellbinding and joyous they were too, and special mention must be made to whoever oversaw the dance choreography (not mentioned on the programme, possibly the director or a group effort by the cast).
Nandipha Gush, Lisa Maholo, Zimasa Nyamende and Lucia Ludick all provide outstandingly cool and natural performances; made all the more outstanding when you remember they are revealing some very troubling personal memories involving HIV, abortion and family issues. There is one horrific speech involving a pregnancy that drew in the audience and particularly sticks in the mind. Verbatim theatre is intensely difficult anyway, with its strict adherence to the original quotations, but for the words to be your own must produce a strange sense of displacement for the performers. Filling in admirably for the girls who couldn’t make it here were Andiswa Mpitsha, Lungelwa Magqamfana and Bronwyn Elliott as the slightly ditzy Caroline for whom pot is always ‘somewhere in the mix’.
One criticism that could be made is that the format was not terribly clear, and it was only halfway through that we realised the ladies were part of a discussion group. (The group providing workshops for the show) Perhaps it is a small issue but, if the scenes were arranged in a more naturalistic manner within that group setting we could have had a little more variety in the blocking. Did everyone need to be onstage the whole time? This is just a thought, and the show was certainly never boring. Director Amy Golding did a sterling job and the movement sections between scenes were sublime. Also, it has to be said that the script editing and structural work by Gez Casey and Ziphozhake Hlobo was also of a very high quality, with the contrast between humour and tragedy handled perfectly.
Interestingly enough ‘Mamela’ first toured South Africa before the Afrovibes Festival saw it and brought it back here where the project was dreamt up. It was said in a speech by Amy Golding before the show that, when the cast arrived at Central Station, singing and dancing their way from the train, they commented that they felt they had ‘come home’. The show itself provides a similar warmth, no matter where you’re from… This slice of life from another culture is definitely worth a look, and it’s brilliant to see these avenues of international entertainment uncovered in the north-east. Other shows, poetry and talks are taking place at Live and Northern Stage as part of the Festival until this Saturday.