Topical SA story

2009-03-12 00:00

JOHAN Steyn’s Father Michael’s Lottery — the story of the struggles faced by doctors and nurses at a small African hospital — has been transformed into a multimedia dance play, which can be seen at the St Anne’s College theatre next week.

The novel, which is poignant, sad and at times extremely funny, tells the story of Dr Morgan and his colleagues who do their level best to thwart Holmes, the budget-conscious superintendent, and his bungling sidekick, Thunderbird, in order to care for patients, many of whom are dying as a result of the Aids pandemic.

When funds are needed for a kidney transplant for one of the patients, Morgan conspires with Father Michael, Dorcas (the shebeen queen), and Rachel (the high-class whore), to make the local rich businessman, Mr B, organise a beerfest to pay for the operation.

Lynn Chemaly, theatre director at St Anne’s College, who penned the script, said the production was the culmination of four years’ work.

“The editor of the book is a friend of mine, so I was given a copy hot off the press. I felt the story was one I had been looking for and would be perfect for a dance play,” she said.

Chemaly, who believes theatre should have a strong social and political agenda, is not afraid to take risks: “I don’t believe in the ‘let’s get bums on seats’ style of theatre. Last year we did Extremities, a play about rape. It shook up the school, but went down well.

“In this production the issue is Aids. There is a vast difference between Third World and First World medical care — those who are able to pay for it get better care.”

Steyn’s novel was written at a time when antiretroviral drugs were available only to the privileged few. Since then, there has been some progress, but in many parts of Africa, the conditions outlined in the story still prevail for the majority of people living with HIV/Aids.

“This book is one of the most uplifting I have read and that has been a challenge for me,” Chemaly said of adapting the novel. “I really had to work at getting the humour across, as well as the incredible connection that the characters have to each other and to their community.

“It’s a very powerful story. It could be so depressing … hideous, but Johan writes it beautifully and with so much humour.”

The cast of the dance play — which uses straight acting, dancing, physical theatre, music (both live and recorded), a narrated sound track and multimedia — includes pupils at St Anne’s and boys from Alexandra High School.

This collaboration is a first for the Hilton school which has previously worked with boys from Michaelhouse and Maritzburg College.

Choreographing the piece is Bonwa Mbontsi, a former Maritzburg College pupil, whom Chemaly met when he was involved in Funk, the annual interschool dance programme produced by the St Anne’s and Hilton College Theatres. In Grade 12 Mbontsi performed in Funk, then in matric he choreographed his school’s performance, returning to Maritzburg College in 2008 to choreograph a piece for them again.

“His degree of technical ability elevates the performance standard and the pupils are loving working with him,” Chemaly said.

The staging of Father Michael’s Lottery marks the 10th anniversary of the St Anne’s Theatre. It can be seen from March 16 to March 20 at 7.30 pm. Tickets, priced R40 for adults (R30 concessions), can be booked at 033 343 3300.

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