By BRUCE DENNILL
NSA Festival Of The Arts 2020: Amanda / Directed by Ethan Oberholzer / Space.com, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
The winner of the National School of the Arts Grade 11 Original Works Festival, Amanda deals with the sorts of themes – prejudice in general, and racism, sexism, and gender-based violence in particular – most parents would hope that their 17-year-olds would never have to deal with, never mind explore in front of an audience.
It’s a short piece, just a smidge over 20 minutes, but its brevity belies the profundity of its storytelling. Amanda is a young black schoolgirl who has fallen for a classmate – who happens to be white, Afrikaans, and female – and she is experiencing challenges at every turn. She has a condescending dolt for a teacher, and her the object of her desire, though sweet, is not as sensitive as she might be to Amanda’s predicament. And there’s another spanner in the works in the form of a boy who is competition for the Afrikaans girl’s attention, and better placed to win her affection in terms of societal expectations.
Thabiso Mashiyakgomo, a matric learner at the NSA, handles all of these roles and others with great aplomb. There is notable technical ability, certainly, as she changes posture and aspects of her school uniform costume while switching accents and flawlessly remembering all of the dialogue and the intonation that goes with it. But what stands out more is the joyful expression of every emotion and movement – even those that are laden, in plot terms, with dejection and confusion. It’s the sort of “X factor” that makes audiences connect with characters easily and producers and directors look up from their paperwork during auditions.
There are many touches in the script that suggest great talent in the writing as well, with clever little verbal mechanisms helping communicate the passing of time or the moving from one context (physically or emotionally) into another.
The sophistication never alienates, however, with young audience members relating to a number of moments in the action and perhaps unknowingly absorbing the finer details without even being aware of it. It’s also encouraging, in dramatic terms, that no concessions are made regarding the darker moments that someone in Amanda’s position is going to have to endure, and the ending is a sobering reminder of the sometimes harsh realities that youngsters have to face.
With its sparse but effective set and short running time, this is a piece that could be toured around school as a means of showing students in similar positions that they are not alone, and Mashiyakgomo is adept enough already that she could carry the piece in national festivals.
One to watch (the actress and the play).