The Writing Studio



The Power of Theatre
February 17, 2007
By Daniel Dercksen

Truth in Translation is a rare animal, a rousing beast that tames its audience and delivers one of the most important theatrical events of our time.

It is drama that starts long before the action on stage commences. There is a solid barrier of pre-conceived ideas, conformities and prejudice that challenges the production. The cast faces an audience that is reluctant to relive our past history, particularly the painful memories of apartheid that was brought to the surface during the Truth and Reconciliation process.

Drama shrouded in politics always has its audience on the defence and ready to attack, protecting precious and intimate encounters and recollections. The audience is curious, suspect and does not want a preachy sermon.

Truth in Translation successfully breaks down this invisible barrier and seduces the audience into an understanding that transcends expectations and evolves into an emotional and unforgettable theatrical experience.

At the start of the production we are plunged into a confusing, controlled environment, where a group of interpreters from difference cultures and languages are turning facts and hearsay into a truthful fiction - information we are familiar with, think we have knowledge of, or have conveniently forgotten.

The mixture of cultures, beliefs and hidden agendas that surface, infuses Paavo Tom Tammi and Michael Lessac’s crackling narrative with an explosive energy that challenges the audience on every level, and delivers powerful theatre that has resonance and is contemporary relevant.

Our pre-conceived perceptions are mercifully erased by the memories that arise out of the action and unite the divided.

There are three major factors that contribute to the overwhelming nature of Truth in Translation.

Firstly, the vision, approach and execution of Michael Lessac - who conceived the production and directs it – astonishes. Lessac ignites energy in his ensemble that shoots through the audience like a live wire.

Projecting visual images of real footage on shirts suspended on washing lines is an ingenious invention, constantly reminding the audience of the reality that forms the stimulating narrative, and on another, deeper level, of the bodies that the shirts were probably taken from. The colourful collection of shirts dissolves into video images that enforce the introspective journey of the characters.

The live footage, edited and assembled by Sharon Hawkes and Emma Tammi, adds another exciting dimension to the production that turns the ordinary into spectacular and captivating theatre.

Traditional conventions are overturned as Lessac turns the stage into an amalgamation of live action, filled with personal introspections and multi-faceted confrontations, and blended with an invigorating audiovisual onslaught.

The stage becomes alive. Gerhard Marx’ clever and practical production design constantly evolves and changes, forcing the characters to face inevitable change, subjecting them to the pressure of conformity.

The design becomes a functional tool that the performers use to engage the audience with subtle nuances.

A second contributing factor is Hugh Masekela’s haunting music. The musical direction is by Ezbie Moilwa, and is performed live on stage by Ray Molefe, Franco Lesiba Magongwa and Sfiso Tshabalala.

The musical element adds a further dimension to the production that beautifully underscores charged emotions that not only unites the diverse characters, but also allows the performers a wonderful opportunity to express their fear and joy.  The music never becomes overbearing or imposing but is an attribute that bridges the gap between deliverance and understanding.

Then there’s the cast. An ensemble from heaven that deserves the standing ovation and occasional bursts of applause and rowdy interception from the live-wire audience.

It is impossible to pay tribute to the cast of 11, who all deliver outstanding performances, but fair to share highlights of the evening.

The evening undoubtedly belonged to Thembi Mtshali - Jones, whose transformation from victim to spiritual guide is unbelievable. Her solo vocal performance overwhelmed the audience and her interpretation of Masekela’s music is indeed another reason to see the show.

Andrew Buckland shines as a director trapped between personal and professional commitments; Nick Boraine is absolutely brilliant as the antagonising liberalist who sparks conflict; Robert Koen delivers a moving and touching performance as an Afrikaner haunted by guilt; Quanita Adams adds a wonderful and refreshing quality to her vivacious and outspoken character; Sibulele Gcilitshana impresses as a woman who stands firm by her beliefs; and Jenny Stead is delightful as the voice of reason.

Truth in Translation is a play that challenges the cast emotionally and physically; their inner and outer conflicts are powerfully manifested, resulting in a magical interaction between themselves, and a dynamic transference to the audience.

There is total involvement in this ‘sometimes’ playful, sometimes ‘painful’ exchange, allowing the audience to fully comprehend the fears and fragility of the characters.

With Truth in Translation, the politics, history and humanity that make up the fabric of our Rainbow nation, will forever be remembered.

It is theatre that inspires dialogue and motivates change.

For once, it feels good to remember, and in remembering, realising the power of theatre that allows us to transform and heal.

© The Colonnades Theatre Lab, Inc. USA [501(c)3] and The Colonnades Theatre Lab SA [Section 21]