Jane B (knally) wrote,
Jane B

Ikrismas Kherol

Last night I went with a friend to see a musical version of A Christmas Carol performed by a South African theatre group Dimpho Di Kopane; it was a marvellous production. It was at the Young Vic, a small theatre where the seats are padded benches (more comfortable than that sounds) and unnumbered so you sit wherever you want. The stage slopes down quite steeply towards you which gives a very immediate experience of a play, particularly one as active as this.

It started in pitch black and then small moving lights appeared in the grid-like ceiling, accompanied by singing, and shadowy figures started climbing down stairs at the back of the stage, revealing themselves to be miners. At ground level they simulated using hand and mechanical tools while chains rattled in oil drums, and sticks hitting wood produced the deafening sound of machinery underground. In all it gave an accurate impression of what it must be like in a mine, and immediately drew the audience into the story.

The story itself was well adapted into a tale of South African township life. Scrooge was a woman, orphaned at an early age and brought up by her elder sister who prostituted herself to earn money to keep them. Scrooge is given a job at Fezziwig's clothing factory, but she helps Marley to buy out the factory, throwing the employees out of work. Her sister dies of AIDS, but Scrooge does, at least, keep her promise to provide for her niece, even as she devotes herself to earning more and more money, eventually ending up the owner of a gold mine. As per the original story, three ghosts appear and show her how her life has changed and where it's heading.

There was a very clever use of film to tell the flashbacks, which were actually shot on location in a township. And the cast often entered and left the stage by the aisles which all added to the reality of the performance. English and South African languages are used, again adding to the authenticity but without giving any problems in comprehension. Personally I found that, instead of the updating of the story just being a gimmick, it showed how much impact the original story must have had on Dickens' contemporaries. The very modern-sounding contempt of decreasing the surplus population expressed by the mine-owner on seeing Tiny Thembisa the crippled daughter of one of the miner's is taken straight from the book. ("If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.")

The choral singing is excellent and often accompanied by exuberant dancing, but the quieter solos have a delicacy which is less expected in African productions. One of the quieter moments of the production is also one of those with most impact. A dozen cast members stand before Scrooge cradling white bundles as the Ghost of Christmas Present says that a child dies every 3 seconds of want and ignorance. One by one the actors count to three and let the cloth unravel to emptiness in a stark and moving metaphor.

For more information about the production, here's the entry at the Young Vic website.
Tags: theatre

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