Theatre Review: ‘My Children! My Africa!’ by Athol Fugard @ The Tristan Bates, London

By Tola Ositelu

1984, South Africa. Impoverished but promising 18-year old student Thami Mbakwena (Nathan Ives-Moiba) finds a kindred spirit in Isabel Dyson (Rose Reynolds) when she visits his school for a debating competition. For Isabel, crossing the colour-lines to go to an African township is an exhilarating and eye-opening experience. Prior contact with indigenous people has been limited to interaction with the Dyson family’s domestic help.

Isabel is also very fond of Mr M (Anthony Ofoegbu), Thami’s inspirational and idealistic teacher. He believes the open-mindedness and intellectual spark of these two bright students could be put to greater, ideological use. He has particularly high hopes for his star pupil Thami, who he thinks has the mettle to be a (peaceful) political messiah in the fight against Apartheid.  However, he has more of the revolutionary in him than Mr M can handle. Thami is torn between respect and admiration for his self-appointed mentor and the perception that his ideas are outdated and retrogressive as far as the Struggle is concerned. He’s beginning to smart under his teacher’s well-intentioned but unyielding control.  The peaceful, non-violent path that Mr M advocates won’t bring change quickly enough for Thami and his comrades.  This ideological clash soon thrusts teacher and protégé apart with dire consequences.

© Boris Mitkov

© Boris Mitkov

Directors Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington make the most of the discomfiting, pressure-cooker atmosphere that playwright Athol ‘Tsotsi’ Fugard no doubt had in mind for ‘My Children! My Africa!’. The vigour of the script is in tension with Nancy Surman’s appropriately staid and claustrophobic set.  The two younger actors’ more measured but still impassioned performances are a helpful counterweight to Ofoegbu’s overblown moments.  Alternating between dialogue and lengthy monologues, this isn’t a simple black and white morality tale in which the heroes and villains are clearly demarcated.  These are well-meaning individuals forced by a ridiculously unjust regime to do what they think is best, even if it’s by highly questionable means.

‘My Children, My Africa!’ is urgent, confrontational and still relevant over twenty years after the fall of Apartheid.

Personnel:

Written by Athol Fugard

Directed by Deborah Edgington & Roger Mortimer

Set/Costume Design: Nancy Surman

Accent coach: Edda Sharpe

Stage Manager: Elanor Webber

Cast:

Nathan Ives-Moiba – Thami

Anthony Ofoegbu – Mr M

Rose Reynolds – Isabel

‘My Children! My Africa!’  (http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/my-children-my-africa) 28 April-16 May 2015 @ The Tristan Bates Theatre.

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