By BRUCE DENNILL
Making Mandela: The Boy Who Defined A Future / Directed by Jenine Collocott / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg
Any vaguely well-read South African will likely admit that they’re a touch fatigued at the thought of learning anything more about the late Nelson Mandela. For very good reason, there is a plethora of publications about almost every aspect of Madiba’s life, examined from a number of perspectives, in a number of languages, by authors from a number of nations and tribes.
The sole area of Mandela’s life where it’s not possible for most South Africans to recite details by rote is his childhood – his life before politics, effectively.
Jenine Collocott and Nick Warren have brought that period to the stage in Collocott’s trademark style, mixing in physical theatre and mask work to allow a small cast to play multiple characters, without there being any distracting to-ing and fro-ing with costumes and set changes.
The trio of actors – Mlindeli Zondi as Mandela and others; Jacques De Silva as Justice, prince of the abaThembu, and others; and Barileng Malibye as Mandela’s mother and others – get through an enormous amount of work, each having reams of dialogue to go with the more or less non-stop physical input expected of them.
What the script omits is as important as what it leaves in. What takes place on stage is the story of a young man who doesn’t, on the surface of it, have much to offer, but who is a likeable, healthy, mischievous sort. What is not referred to, other than in the responses of the young Nelson and Justice to some cultural and political references (there’s a cleverly woven thread about the rise of the Afrikaner Broederbond at the same time as Mandela was enjoying his childhood) is what everyone in the audience already knows: that the young man on stage will end up becoming one of the most influential political leaders in history, via armed resistance, a long jail term and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Long segments in Xhosa add realism and integrity to the piece. They do make those particular segments rather confusing for audiences who don’t speak the language, but in the scope of the play as a whole, it is easy enough to follow the narrative.
As good as theatre as it is as a living, talking textbook.