There are two things that annoy me about audiences in South Africa.
The first thing is that they consider a local cast to be inferior to an international one. Nowhere close to true! The second is that they don’t support student productions.
They need convincing them otherwise: you can’t help but be proud to be South African when you see what drama students can do and the passion with which they do it. Perhaps you get the odd awkward moment or faux pas with a college cast, and perhaps they haven’t learnt to hide their nerves as well. But the two student productions I watched this in the last week of September had more passion and generosity on stage than the many of the shows I watched in Broadway and the West End this year.
There is a buzz on stage that is difficult to recreate with a hardened cast of seasoned professionals. Do not underestimate the power that comes with a life of dreams ahead of you (and a potential hint of naivety).
The first student performance I loved was Athol Fugard’s No Good Friday, put on by the dramatic arts students at Wits University. The set was cleverly simple, though a touch obstructive in terms of view. What struck me was the simplicity and realness of the student’s performances. They really became their characters.
So what if a prop fell over and a few awkward shadows distracted the audience when they weren’t supposed to? What is live theatre without the exciting potential for things to go wrong?
Special mention must be made of Ivan Andre, whose expressive eyes made the audience fall in love with the character of Guy. Fugard’s plays are incredibly wordy and packed with punchy one-liners that get to the heart of their messages. It’s a difficult feat to do justice to such a saturated script and not to stumble over a few lines. You have to take your hat off to young performers who can vocalise a story with such aplomb.
The magnificence of No Good Friday is that it is set in apartheid, but the storyline itself is not driven by race. It becomes a metaphor within the time frame of what it is commenting on. Don’t turn your nose up at paying to see young actors. Go and watch and give them a reason to want to pursue this difficult profession further.
Then, to my area of (assumed) expertise – musical theatre. Oakfields College has produced nothing but excellence in its short life as a dance and musical theatre school. Collaboration is the key.
When the pros step off their respective stages to work with students (talented ones), you are unlikely to get anything but a prize piece of theatre. This year’s production was a South African debut of Carrie, The Musical.
Elizma Bahdenhorst and Rowan Bakker took on the direction of the piece, with the latter creating an incredible sound with the young ensemble.
Was it ambitious to attempt Carrie? Maybe…. A show including magic is generally not advised on a small budget, but they did it! And they did it well. And again, what talent!
Young Carmen Tromp held her own as Carrie next to Kate Normington who plays Carrie’s crazy, over-protective mother. Tromp’s is not the only performance to take note of. There are some fabulous voices ready to take over the musical theatre scene next year.
This is less of a review than a notice to SA’s theatre audiences to extend their patronage to student productions. It’s worth your time. University theatres shouldn’t only be filled with excited moms and noisy friends. They should be packed with arts fanatics excited to see the next batch of the creative crop launch in to the professional world.
South Africa has no shortage of talent and we are facing a potential boom in the performance industry – this is where we need to focus our attention. This is where we will nurture future talent and grow and educate future audiences. Let’s make these young stars shine!