Powerful evocation of ‘Cry, The Beloved Country’ author’s life

Powerful evocation of ‘Cry, The Beloved Country’ author’s life

VENUE: The Fugard Studio until June 25

(This review originally appeared in The Next 48hOURS: JOBURG, upon the production’s run at the State Theatre. We have been informed that the production is unchanged for its Cape Town run.)

The moment Ralph Lawson steps on stage and utters the first words as Alan Paton he has you in the palm of his hand.
Bearing an uncanny likeness to the great South African writer, Lawson is a consummate performer. He triggers to life in vivid detail, and through every movement and gesture, a man who made an invaluable contribution to the South African literary and political landscape.

‘A Voice I Cannot Silence’ is a brilliantly written slice of theatre which goes to enormous lengths to examine Paton through his own words: his stories, poems and autobiographies.
Impeccably directed by Greg Homann, who co-wrote the play with Ralph Lawson, this three-hander is an insightful and revealing look at a man who was described as “a lighthouse in the South African twilight.”
As a staunch Liberal and head of the party he clashed repeatedly with the Nationalist government of the time, and his angry tirades at the policies of apartheid and the havoc it wrought on the non-white population of the country, was powerfully rendered, with his eloquent words reverberating around the theatre.

The play homes in on various aspects of Paton’s life, opening with the passing of his first wife Dorrie and ending with Paton’s own sad demise. In between, audiences are treated to a living canvas of Paton’s thoughts and ideals, vigorously expounded in a poetic flow of words.

Seated in his crowded study, overflowing with documents, books and letters, Paton comes across as a strong character; one who lived for his ideals and was prepared to confront Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoerd on all levels. He saw the raw side of life during his tenure as Principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, and his relationship with one of the inmates, Sponono, (Menzi Mkhwane), is forcefully depicted.
After the passing of his beloved wife Dorrie, he engaged a secretary named Anne Hopkins (Clare Mortimer) who brought some sense and order to his life. Their relationship developed over time and she eventually became his second wife and a powerful asset in his turbulent world.

What the play cleverly illustrates is the wisdom and understanding Paton brought to bear on everything he believed in and high up on his list was his undying love for nature. There are gentle moments between him and Anne, one in particular when they sit on a bench and he talks lovingly about his feathered friends.

The indomitable spirit that drove him, even when his passport was taken away for 10 years by the Apartheid Government, is the play’s shining light and Lawson’s towering presence gives the character its body and soul.
Mortimer is excellent as Anne, who became such a dependable companion in his later years, and Mkhwane is solid in his portrayal of two diverse characters.

Mention must be made of Nadya Cohen’s impressive set, which is a replica, I’m told, of the author’s own study.
Alan Paton was one of South Africa’s cultural and political icons, author of the international best-seller ‘Cry, The Beloved Country,’ and this play does full justice to his memory. It is highly recommended.

* Book online at Computicket; or via the Fugard Box Office on 021 461 4554.