Kani’s latest play is ‘Missing…’ a few elements

Kani’s latest play is ‘Missing…’ a few elements

SHOW: MISSING…
DIRECTOR: JANICE HONEYMAN
CAST: JOHN KANI, SUSAN DANFORD, BUHLE NGABA AND APOLLO NTSHOKO
VENUE: THE BAXTER THEATRE UNTIL MARCH 29
REVIEW: PETER TROMP

I’m a real sucker for plays that set out to make sense of the modern day South African political landscape. Mike van Graan has carved a niche for himself with this kind of fare (usually laced with thriller elements), but over the years we have seen many playwrights attempt to capture the essence of where we are as a nation.
‘Missing…’, although predominantly set in the year 2000, or roundabouts, is all about how we have ended up where we are now: a nation as divided as ever, with corruption an ongoing and festering presence.

To paraphrase one of the characters in the play, “I had to do something for myself for once,” and although that moment is presented as somewhat sympathetic in the play – the words of a character that had always felt short shrifted and undermined – it also underscores how excessive self-interest, however justifiable it may feel to the person in question, can ultimately prove ruinous to a democracy.
John Kani’s first full length play since ‘Nothing But The Truth’ is a fascinating, vital and timely work.
I found myself agreeing with so many of the points he was making, especially the ones relating to power. I also love the overall humanistic and delicately humorous tone.
The milieu of the play is also an element that works in its favour. You could probably make a convincing argument that the rot really started to set in right about the time that Thabo Mbeki was envisioning a globalised future for South Africa. At the same time it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to many of the text’s faults, as well as the way ‘Missing…’ is staged.

The play often over explicates, almost sermonises – especially during passages where characters give vent to universes of innermost feelings – all of which bleeds the whole thing of drama, tension and believability. The characters also don’t feel fully realised. Very often they act erratically, and not in a convincing manner. It’s one thing to be laced with contradictions, but to contradict something you said a few moments earlier with something completely different following that… All of this suggests that Kani could have used a better script editor, because what’s there is strong – just not optimised.
The unnaturalness of many of these passages is not helped by some shoddy staging at times. It’s understandable that the blocking is somewhat off. Kani sustained a back injury during the final week of preparations, and this obviously ate into valuable rehearsal time.

Even taking this into account, I wasn’t prepared for the blocking to be way off in the manner it was on the evening I saw ‘Missing…’. Despite all the challenges that the cast must have faced during the last few weeks, they make for a spirited ensemble with each player getting a lot of stage time to delve into their characters.
‘Missing…’ is not the masterpiece most of us were hoping for, but it is alive, and it contains within itself the seeds to be another important post-apartheid work. What it needs is more work and polish. I’d love to revisit it in a year’s time or so, after some revisions have been made. What is there at the moment is nevertheless thought provoking and engrossing.

* Book at Computicket.