PICTURES: Masi Losi
DIANE DE BEER REVIEWS:
FENCES by August Wilson
DIECTOR: Ricardo Kahn
CO PRODUCER: John Kani
CAST: Tumisho Masha (Troy, head of the family), Khutjo Green (his wife Rose), Atandwa Kani (their son Cory), Sbusiso Mamba (Troy’s brother Gabriel), Lunga Radebe (his best friend Jim Bono), Hlomla Dandala (Lyons, a son from a previous relationship) and Itumeleng Ngxakazi (daughter Raynell)
SET DESIGNER: Sarah Roberts
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mannie Manim
COSTUME DESIGNER: Thando Lobese
DIALECT COACH: Ywande James
VENUE: Nelson Mandela at the Joburg Theatre
DATES: Until February 26
TIMES: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 11am; from Wednesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; and Sundays at 3pm
Many of us feel that every production we attend is an event. No one had any doubt about this at the Sunday afternoon opening of Fences with the theme on the invite stating retro ‘50s and the audience coming out to play – BIG TIME.
They were obviously in the mood and the foyer was buzzing. They had stepped delightfully into their magnificent 50-style glad rags and set the pace for what was about to unfold on stage.
And that’s part of the festivities with this kind of opening – the people. I’ve seen enough international productions to know that you probably won’t find our unique audiences anywhere else in the world. They’re there to listen but also to participate. In different parts of the auditorium, you will have your own special chorus who will usually add rather than detract from the production.
On this day, we were blessed with a sassy group of women who were happy to speak their minds, leaving no doubt about their feelings while warmly embracing what was happening on stage.
And with reason. There might have been hiccups with the initial casting, with Kani snr sadly having to step aside because of medical reasons from which he will recover, he says. Yet it is the strength of the ensemble that inhabits this Wilson play that takes your breath away.
You simply have to look at the cast or, if you’re unfamiliar with their names, check their credentials and experience, to know that they will pull it off. And they did and in this instance with no weak links. In the hands of an American director who is steeped in the August Wilson tradition, his intimate knowledge of the people, the time and the place, where and when Fences is set, is obvious.
Not only does the American accent lie gently on the cast’s tongues, they truly play as if to the manner born, which allows everything and everyone to concentrate on honouring this extraordinary play.
From the Roberts set (as the lights and multi-media come into play) – one that embraces and draws the audience into even this huge auditorium – to the lightness of touch when dealing with the complicated relationships in families, perfection is deftly accomplished.
Wilson often deals in dreams cherished and then dashed in a community that against all odds still has hope that its desires will be met. Here a father lashes out at his sons in a way that curtails and sometimes crushes their dreams, and plays fast and loose with those closest to him in a way that can only spell disaster.
And while this is a story set in the middle of the last century, it has as much relevance today (sadly) as it did then. Similar scenarios are still unravelling families and their hoped-for futures.
If all of this seems just too dire to witness, it is a grand celebration of performances from some of our best actors in a play that allows them to shine individually and as a group.
Starring Masha (who many might recognise as a past Top Billing presenter) as the central character of the father, a man so crippled by his past that he finds it difficult to encourage others to try for the best, he plays some of those long speeches with such a natural air it’s difficult not to engage with his plight, the way he has chosen to deal with it and destroy even more lives by his actions.
As the only woman, Green (looking on in above picture) has no problems establishing a presence as a woman of substance – someone you don’t want to mess with. She’s there for her men and, if allowed would probably get the family moving in spite of hardship.
Kani Jnr as the youthfull Cory, a son with stars in his eyes, has a bounce in his step and his delivery marvellously captures the energy of someone on the brink of a life, while Mamba as the hapless Grabriel probably has one of the toughest hurdles in a role that almost begs an actor to steal the show. But he plays with the necessary pathos to honour the man and the story being told.
Dandala and Radebe also make their moments count with the young Ngxakazi making an auspicious debut surrounded by this veteran cast.
It is a story that niggles and nourishes. With August Wilson described as the “theatre’s poet of black America”, director and cast have pulled together a production to remember while presenting a fantastic start to a season of Wilson plays in the coming years.
Next up is The Piano Lesson which recently had rave reviews for its revival with Samuel L Jackson and John David Washington.
Don’t miss out on our own fantastic revival with a cast that bristles.