My Children! My Africa! at Tristan Bates
It’s 1985 and South Africa is gripped by Apartheid. Black schoolteacher Mr M struggles against the ever-waning interest of his star pupil in an attempt to show that words are mightier than violence. In a climate of escalating unrest, it’s only a matter of time before their different ideals must battle for dominance.
A story about the power of language, My Children! My Africa! is fittingly expressive and articulate, made up of classroom debates, meaty monologues and poetry recitals. One of the play’s highlights is Mr M’s soliloquy on the subject of hope: “I’ve got a whole zoo in me! …One of those animals, the one called Hope, has broken loose and is looking for food. Don’t be fooled by its gentle name. It is as dangerous as Hate and Despair would be if they ever managed to break out.” Athol Fugard’s script brims with the joy of language.
Anthony Ofoegbu is sublime as the fated and idealistic Mr M, whose desperation in trying to keep his class in school drives him to the brink of despair and beyond. He has invested his dreams for a better Africa in his protégé, Thami, only to learn that the young man is more interested in violent uprising. “Don’t scorn words; they are sacred,” pleads Mr M. “If the struggle needs weapons, give it words.”
Nathan Ives-Moiba’s Thami is upright and stiff with invisible armour. He has chosen to turn his back on the education that brought him so much joy and join The Great Unrest to protest the treatment of black people in South Africa. “Your lessons were in whispering. There are men who are teaching us how to shout.” Rose Reynolds is sweet and earnest as Isabel, the white South African teenager who has never felt as alive as she does the moment she steps into the classroom of the non-whites only school to take part in a debate.
A wall of criss-crossed barbed wire segregates the audience from the stage, rendering it both complicit and helpless. Stark lighting punctuates the action; a farewell between two friends is lit from the side, casting long, ominous shadows across the floor and opposite wall.
Weighty, heart-wrenching and ever pertinent, My Children! My Africa! will stir you deeply but leave you with a glimmer of that most dangerous of animals: hope.
My Children! My Africa! is on at Tristan Bates Theatre until 16th May 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch playwright Athol Fugard discuss My Children! My Africa! here:
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