Operatic adaptation of Zakes Mda novel nails important targets

Operatic adaptation of Zakes Mda novel nails important targets

SHOW: Heart Of Redness

Director: Mark Fleishman

CAST: Mfundo Tshazibane, Khayalethu Anthony, Luvo Tamba, Indalo Stofile, Lubabalo Nontwana, Sivenkosi Gubangxa, Palesa Malieloa, Pelise Myendeki, Khanyiso Gwenxane, Mthunzi Mbombela, Nkosana Sitimela, Tina Mene, Miranda Tini, Simphiwe Mayeki, Pumza Mxinwa

VENUE: Played at the Fugard Theatre until August 22

REVIEW: Peter Tromp

In a recent interview, director Mark Fleishman was asked whether his production of ‘Heart of Redness’ was opera, or musical. The Magnet Theatre spearhead answered: “This is a hard one. I know that it is being billed as a musical version, but I don’t want anyone to interpret this as it being like a Broadway Musical – it is not. It has elements of the operatic, elements of the choral, elements of the traditional. Overall it is hard to define and package neatly under a single unambiguous descriptor. And that is exactly what we are trying to achieve – a something in–between that takes cognisance of various styles without settling comfortably into any one of them.” This – naturally – works both in the production’s favour, and also functions as a kind of disservice.

Before I get to the nitty gritty of my review, let me first declare the production that played at the Fugard Theatre last week an artistic success. The collaboration between Cape Town Opera, the physical theatre company Magnet Theatre and celebrated local composer Neo Muyanga is unlike anything I’d seen before. The production featured six actors and nine singers – with actors and singers doubling up on characters in certain instances – and a small musical ensemble conducted by Muyanga, so it essentially operated on three different levels. That Fleishman managed to keep the whole thing feeling like a unified whole for the most part is to his immense credit.

One thing directors always have to contend with when staging a production on the Fugard’s main stage is its lack of expanse. The likes of Athol Fugard have dealt with this limitation by giving their productions verticality – the imposing set of Fugard’s ‘The Bird Watchers’ immediately springs to mind. That production only featured three actors, though. Anything more than that and the limitations of the space really start to become apparent. You just cannot get around the fact that the actors have so little space to move around in and for a physical theatre company like Magnet Theatre, well, it was bound to affect them more than most. Fleishman impressively dealt with essentially having one arm tied behind his back, but the repetitiveness of the motions of the actors eventually started to imbue on one a sense of claustrophobia – which sat at odds with the expansiveness of Mda’s story.

One thing that the narrowness of the Fugard Theatre does facilitate is making one feel very close to the action. The whole evening felt like an intimate affair, and with the wonderful actors on display – the casting was impeccable – it made for a transfixing evening. I still feel however that on a different stage this “chamber opera” could have had much more of an impact, especially considering the epic subject matter at the core of Zake Mda’s novel.

Ultimately, ‘Heart of Redness’ contends with matters as big as modernity vs. tradition and especially how that relates to how we treat the environment.

I haven’t read the novel, so I cannot comment on how successful Fleishman has been in capturing its quintessence. The small scale of the production did impart on me the feeling that many compromises had to be made in adaption. It’s difficult enough for movies to adapt a complex novel. The challenge must be tenfold when it comes to a stage production. However much this production of ‘Heart of Redness’ lacked scope in a sense, one nevertheless got a good dose of the challenging and thought provoking themes that appear to be the underpinnings of Mda’s work of fiction – more than enough to chew on for days after.