Theatre review: My Children, My Africa
Jill Truman finds a complex story of apartheid
“The future is still ours” – these were brave words when spoken by actors suffering under South African apartheid in 1984. But this outstanding play is more than just agitprop theatre. It is as humane and complex as the people who struggled to promote their views on how to overcome that regime at a time when their cause seemed hopeless.
The set (by Nancy Surman) makes this clear from the outset. A nondescript classroom is seen though a menacing barbed wire barrier. The actors exit and enter through “whites only” and “blacks only” doors. However free they feel to express themselves in that classroom, they live from day to day in a very different environment from which there is no escape.
The playwright, Athol Fugard, like his mentor Brecht, believed that the audience should feel involved in the arguments presented on stage. In this highly political play, three people express their beliefs in impassioned monologues.
Rose Reynolds, as Isobel, a privileged white schoolgirl, is wise for her age. She projects a youthful honesty in her relationships with the other actors.
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In contrast, Thami, equally intelligent, has undergone a Bantu education, designed to serve the interests of the white supremacists.
Nathan Ives-Moiba gives a moving interpretation of a generous-spirited young man, made desperate by the situation into which black people have been forced by the regime.
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Thami is the star pupil of Mr M – the most tragic character, portrayed with a powerful authenticity by Anthony Ofoegbu. As a struggling teacher, he has played along with the system, believing that, eventually, education can change society. Ultimately, such belief comes at a high cost.
This almost faultless production by Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington is enhanced by Erin Witten’s sound design, a meaningful comment on the ideas of the play.
Hindsight enables contemporary audiences to reflect on the ways in which the damage inflicted by apartheid can persist in subsequent generations. This play certainly deserves to transfer to a larger venue.