Thursday, November 23, 2006

The native tale

Rafiki's performance of Woza Albert! effectively captured the zeitgeist of the Apartheid

BLACK HUMOUR The play used laughter to bring out grim reality

`Woza Albert!' immediately reminds you of Apartheid. The play deals with the frustration, struggles and desperation of native blacks in South Africa, finding a way out of their oppressing situation. The setting is simple. The locale could be anywhere in South Africa; the jail, the brick factory, the butcher or the barber's shop, and the situation is the same. The sense of humour camouflages the pain.Each of the scenes rebuilds the conflicts of the people.The play is an outcome of one such discouraging situation, where the original actors of the play (Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngena) were denied their right to perform once, due to the lack of a work permit. That is the point where the play was born. "What would happen if God came to South Africa?" Several discussions and debates with the locals became the raw material of the play, which was directed originally by Barney Simone, the director of the Market Theatre, Johannesburg.

It was therefore interesting to see Bangalore-based Rafiki perform Woza Albert! The troupe in the past has performed plays of Athol Fugard, one of which (Sizwe Bansi is Dead) inspired the present play. After many years of hiding, Rafiki performed the play on November 14 and 15, 2006, at Ranga Shankara. This play is directed by Ashish D'Abreo, who was a part of the Sizwe Bansi production. Rafiki's focus on process work with the script and actors is reflected in the performances of Anish Victor and Sachin Gurjale. They were effective in portraying the poignant reality through the dozen stories of common people, in fast moving scenes.

Can Morena (Jesus Christ) save the black men? Each character develops imaginative stories, depicting how people will react if Morean did come to South Africa. While the Blacks ask for basic rights, of education, fair work, food, shelter, the white men with clown noses, are seen changing loyalties. At first, they are glad, that Morena is coming to South Africa, and then wonder if Morena is actually Saddam Hussian or Osama, and then imprison him in the famous Robben Island.

Victor and Gurjale easily got in and out of the various roles, and were even able to come close to the true accent of the people. The study and work behind the play is obvious. This is the interesting part of their work — the fact that the troupe began working on Woza Albert! nearly eight years ago, under the guidance of Hartman d'Souza and from the past two years with Ashish D'Abreo, is refreshing.

Both the actors bring out the humour quite skilfully, almost camouflaging the dark realities behind witty lines, and funny gestures. The disparate yet connected sketches are moving and remind of a Chaplin-like treatment to the script. For music, Victor and Gurjale, both use the part of the sets as percussion, and sing some good African tunes. One area at the centre of the stage is the locale of the play, and the actors do not go beyond, making the play possible to be performed in smaller places. There are no bright colours, usually used in a lot of African influenced work. The entire play stands out for its simplicity, and good execution, and we need to see more performances of the same around Bangalore.

In the post-performance discussion, the troupe revealed that they still regard the performance as an ongoing process and would sometime consider completely adapting the play to the Indian scenario.


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