Looking for answers after 20 years of democracy – Return of the Ancestors

Looking for answers after 20 years of democracy –  Return of the Ancestors

‘Return of the Ancestors’, Mike van Graan’s latest satire, is the penultimate play of Artscape’s 10th Spring Drama Season. It will be showing at the Arena until November 15.

PETER TROMP chatted to the writer, director and cast about the production.

VAN GRAAN, The Writer
What inspired you to write ‘Return of the Ancestors’?
I wanted to do a piece that marked two decades of democracy this year, and the inspiration behind this piece is the South African classic ‘Woza Albert’, in which Jesus returns to South Africa during the apartheid era. So, I thought that twenty years into our democracy it would be great to have people coming from the “world beyond” to reflect on our progress. In this piece, the Council of Ancestors send Steve Biko and Neil Aggett, both of whom died in police detention, to see whether the sacrifices of those who had fought apartheid had been worthwhile. Stylistically, this piece also owes much to ‘Woza Albert’ in terms of physical theatre, the two actor format and the multiple scenes and characters played by the two actors.

I believe this is the first play of yours to be featured as part of the Spring Drama Season. How do you feel about the showcase, and what are your hopes for the Season going forward past 10 years?
The Spring Drama season and the dramaturgical assistance provided under Roy Sargeant to playwrights who have been featured in the past, have been excellent for the identification and “platforming” of new work. ‘Return of the Ancestors’ is my last play as Artscape’s Associate Playwright and this Spring Season is an opportunity to bring older and newer voices together. It’s not only about the writing, but also the directing and acting and I’m delighted that a young cast and director have the opportunities to showcase their work, and to learn, through the presentation of my work.
I hope that the Associate Playwright idea, the featuring of Artscape’s productions at a venue at the National Arts Festival where they have won numerous awards over the last three years and the Spring Drama Season will continue to identify, nurture and showcase new work, but also that structures are put in place to mentor new writers and directors.

MDU KWEYAMA, The Director
What can people look forward to with show?
The show is funny and physical. There is not a dull moment throughout. The audience will be on the edge of their seats for the entire 65 minutes.

What attracted you to helming the project in the first place?
Having successfully directed one of Mike’s plays, ‘Brothers in Blood’, I was curious to see what it would be like to direct another play by him, so I did not think twice when I was presented with this opportunity. Mike’s work deals with South African realities. I fully believe that we as South Africans should take responsibility in telling our stories; we can’t wait for other people to tell our stories.

Tell us a bit about your character(s) and your process of realising him/them.
Yho! I have never before played so many characters. I have played multiple characters in most plays I have done in my career, but this one makes me work harder and I am enjoying it. I am portraying the character of Neil Aggett, a white medical doctor who returns with Biko to South Africa in a black body. I’d never heard of him before this play, so I researched him a lot for the role. The other 15 characters I play all meet up with Steve Biko.
The process of finding these characters was not easy at all. I had to do research, talk to people and look hard at the current government, and some were not even interested in talking about this matter, especially older people. It hurts me to see an elderly person crying because of how she is being treated by the government after what she has been through. I have spoken with people who have lost hope (in our country) because of the current government’s failures.

Tell us a bit about your character(s) and your process of realising him/them.
I primarily play the role of Steve Biko, but also many other characters. Biko is a challenging role, due to the fact that there is so little recorded footage of him. It is challenging to find the unknown, or human side of Biko, rather than focus on the public persona. I also enjoy the roles of the people he meets while on his way to meet the president with Neil Aggett. It’s been a beautiful process of discovery and inventions with our director.

* Book at Computicket.