10 July 2012 | BRUCE DENNILL
SHOW: Mother To Mother - Thembi Mtshali-Jones singing a song before she begins speaking also increases accessibility – music connects people easily.
CAST: Thembi Mtshali-Jones
DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman
VENUE: Drill Hall, Grahamstown
Mtshali-Jones’s poor, township mother begins – before the central theme of the play becomes evident – by dissecting her desire for a “normal” family life, which includes being able to see her children.
Her delivery is not built on bitterness. She’s calmly stating her case, and even including touches of humour. Mtshali-Jones portrays multiple characters, but only partly.
Other than her central narrator, the other roles are caricatures, by the narrator, of others involved in her story.
The endless monologue is very colourful, painting a detailed perspective, and delivered in an informal way that makes the whole thing feel like a chat rather than a production.
But at some point, the phrase “trouble in Gugulethu” damages whatever bridges have been built to that point and separates those involved into different camps again. Another phrase from the script, in which apartheid is described as a “policy of good neighbourliness” gets a laugh, which seems misplaced.
The focus of the “trouble in Gugulethu”, it becomes clear, was the high- profile murder of American student Amy Biehl.
As the overlap in the narratives of the narrator’s family life, the many cultural issues she has chatted about and the steady delivery of hard-to-bear news stories is revealed, Mtshali-Jones displays real, tangible emotion.
Her character must make a choice to be a victim or not, but she cannot remain uninvolved with Biehl’s death, and her new relationship with the dead girl’s mother.
The juxtaposition of the real-time acting and projected pictures of Biehl and others involved in the story gives the play a point of contact with the experience of audience members who followed the story.
It also gives the piece a sense of cultural worthiness that, while it should not be ignored, does take away from the entertainment value of the play.
Mother To Mother was just one of many plays at this year’s National Arts Festival to examine, or re-examine, racism itself or stories in which racism is unavoidably a theme.
That the narrator appears, at times, to see herself as a more tragic character than Biehl’s mother is a point of contention, but that’s fine – it’s a play, not a debate.
It does blur that line a little too much for comfort, though.
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