SHOW: Fishers of Hope (Tawaret)
DIRECTOR: Lara Foot
CAST: Mncedisi Shabangu, Shaun Oelf, Phillip Dikotla, Lesedi Job, Phillip Tipo Tindasa, Nceba Gongxeka
VENUE: Arena at South African State Theatre, Pretoria, until May 23
REVIEW: PETER FELDMAN
Lara Foot is a significant voice in South African theatre and the woman who garnered such critical acclaim with ‘Tshepang’, among others, has conceived another winner.
‘Fishers of Hope’ goes to the very soul of life in a poor African village that relies on fishing for its livelihood. Here we meet a group of intertwining characters, living out their versions of hope, and desperately trying to come to grips with a life that has not been very good to them. Each carries a burden.
But hope, as the director says in her programme notes, is the binding metaphysical power of their community.
The narrator is a wonderful creation named Njawu, played with an imposing presence and charisma by Mncedisi Shabangu. He emerges from the shadows at the start of the production, addressing the audience as if they were a group of tourists visiting the country. He is a tour guide, he informs us, with a real job and a great knowledge of life and living. He knows the idiosyncratic nature of the various nationalities he encounters, from the big spending, loud-mouth Americans to the staid, conforming Germans. He is like a sage.
We travel with him to the village of Tawaret where the old man, John (Phillip Tipo Tindisa), a fisherman, is slowly trying to recover from a hippo attack. His leg has been seriously damaged and without proper care the wound is becoming worse.
His younger wife, Ruth (an excellent reading by Lesedi Job), loves him and is aware that his physical pain is causing his psychological hang-up. The hippo attack and his inability to fish constantly play on his mind and affect him badly.
Niara (Phillip M Dikotla) is Ruth’s unemployed, revolutionary brother who has plenty of ideas and does not have the will or inclination to implement them. He implores his sister to leave the sickly John.
Then there is the mixed race boy Peter (Shaun Oelf) whose mother died at childbirth and who didn’t know his father. He is being brought up by the ragged, penniless family. He doesn’t talk at all but forms a kind of metaphor in his physical actions which reflect the angst and the pain he is suffering. He mirrors the plight of these unfortunate people, too.
Atmospheric video projection and backdrop, a lone musician (Nceba Gongxeka) creating all the sounds and musical effects and a brilliantly conceived set by Patrick Curtis add enormously to this compelling play. The set represents a fishing village, complete with nets, a short jetty and water from the lake flowing beneath it. There is also a tiny bedroom. The set has an ethereal beauty that beautifully reflects the mood of the piece.
The acting is uniformly impressive and director and writer Foot maintains a fine balance throughout, offering a set of engaging characters all with some kind of hope in their hearts, but who come up against fate and circumstances.
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