Grahamstown review: Marikana – The Musical, an impossible task

2014-07-09 17:18

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Anyone attempting to tell the terrible story of the Marikana massacre through musical theatre faces an impossible task.

This is certainly true of Marikana – The Musical, a project by State Theatre artistic director Aubrey Sekhabi.

It’s just been performed at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Sekhabi’s troupes of performers do their best to dramatise a story we all know well, but the subject comes with baggage: it has a lot of emotional resonance in the national psyche. To approach it as a musical - a theatrical form usually reserved for flowery and celebratory themes - was bound to render Sekhabi’s project suspect.

The problem is that musicals tend to be celebratory.

And indeed, there are times when this musical struggles to keep this aspect of the form at bay.

The singing and dialogue are informed in part by the protest songs actually sung by the miners who were slain during the notorious event.

The score also includes new compositions and arrangements.

The cast includes a five-piece band, which provides musical accompaniment to the singing.

One wondered if a single cello or horn might sometimes not have been more appropriate to the brooding, dark mood of the subject.

Sekhabi has enlisted some star actors, including Aubrey Pooe as General Nyoko - a fictionalised version of the police’s General William Mbembe - and Meshack Mavuso, who plays the role of the Man in the Green Blanket (Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki).

Supporting them is a cast of less famous but equally capable performers.

The movements were choreographed by Thabo Rapoo, the Standard Bank Young Artist of The Year 2009 in dance.

Given his subject, Sekhabi starts off with a conundrum. He must ensure that his production stays true to a troubling part of our history.

On the other hand, he must create a good work of art. These two elements don’t often make good bedfellows.

If he had allowed himself more creative licence with the subject, he would likely have been charged with disrespect.

But one has to ask whether his struggle to remain true to the historic facts got in the way of his creative freedom.

We already know what happened at Marikana. What we need from art is its capacity to carry abstract truth – those truths of life that language is inadequate to express.

» View the festival programme to see when Marikana – The Musical is showing at Grahamstown.

» Marikana – The Musical will show at the State Theatre from September 30.

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