Grahamstown review – Trapped, but not hopeless

2014-07-04 13:45

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Taking her search for stories beyond the South African experience and into other parts of Africa made her feel free, Fishers of Hope writer/director Lara Foot said at the postproduction discussion hosted by City Press at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.

But the characters in this poignant piece are not free. Like fish, they thrash in a net woven of poverty and circumstance. Trapped, yet a thread of hope runs through the story and through the souls of each character. This is the line they cling to, seek out and reel in as their lives unfold.

Foot says all her work incorporates hope, even in the most dire of situations – Fishers of Hope takes that further, making it the central stream running through the piece. Each character’s relationship with hope is knotted on to the other’s as they fight to break free from the fate that holds them.

The play starts with a jovial Njawu (Mncedisi Shabangu) calling for the audience to strap in, to come along and see as he regales the audience with funny stories about all the tourists he has taken on tours. Those who wish to see animals, those who wish to “make a difference”, those who are there to save the monkeys, the rhinos, the moths.

Njawu takes the audience to a place that is at once specific and universal. A woman, Ruth (Lesedi Job), struggles to feed her family after her husband, John (Philip Tipo Tendisa), is bitten by a hippo. Meanwhile, her mute foster son, Peter, fights for his own place in the world, casting out for meaning and the elusive hope. He is created by dancer Shaun Oelf. He has no words, but he is far from silent.

The staging of this mesmerising work is in Foot’s usual style, using soundscapes, video and light to accentuate the sense of place, to support the actors’ powerful performances. Foot said they had only six weeks of rehearsal time, yet Fishers of Hope leaps from the stage as a fully formed ecosystem of lives shattered by need, by ingrained bigotry, a nostalgia of a place God blessed that has long since become blighted by the greed of men.

There are a thousand themes, but one universal desire: to tell the stories of these people in this place, to give them a voice. Another of Foot’s signatures – the ability to get behind the story, behind the clichés, to reveal the people who live that life and to let them tell their stories in all their contradictory complexity.

Fishers of Hope goes from the National Arts Festival to the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town from July 10 to August 2.

To see when it will be staged in Grahamstown, get the festival programme here.

» City Press will be hosting postproduction discussions every day of the festival. Today’s discussion is after Sylvaine Strike’s Black & Blue at 6pm. Get more details on the postproduction discussions here.

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