“There is no justice in this country other than what we make for ourselves,” cries an angry young man. His fury ignites a rage that boils over into violence and murder in Ahol Fugard’s explosive My Children! My Africa!
Apartheid isn’t just black and white. This visceral, brutal, raw and thought-provoking story will remain with you long after you’ve left London’s Trafalgar Studios where it opened last night.
I came away from the production ashamed of my own ignorance and angry that so little was done by the rest of the world to crush this appalling regime during its heyday.
There is a widely held belief that freedom and betterment only comes through education – but what if the teaching is deeply flawed?
I was shocked to read in the production’s programme that Bantu education in black South Africa was deliberately inferior so that it would churn out an ignorant and under-educated race, fit only for manual labour.
Meanwhile the minority white children benefited from the very best facilities and access to the finest universities.
MCMA doesn’t simplify the subject nor talk down to its audience. The characters are realistically drawn and deeply complicated, the children divided in their beliefs and set to travel two distinct paths to a better South Africa.
Its cast of three each give electric performances whether you’re watching the arrogance and innocence of 18-year-old aspiring journalist Isabel (a captivating Rose Reynolds with a spot-on Afrikaans accent), cosseted in her safe, white world of advantage, or Nathan Ives-Moiba’s seething Thami, or the dignified English teacher Mr M (Anthony Ofoegbu) hoping to force change through education.
The story opens with a shouting match taking place in a classroom over, ironically, sex equality. Isabel has taken a team of privileged young ladies into a township school for a debating contest.
Both speakers represent their gender and race and both talk with conviction and passion.
Her opposite number, the class’s brightest boy, Thami, has clearly received tuition over and above Bantu expectations. The result is that Mr M has created a teen, fuelled by knowledge and anger, who is fired up and already plotting civil unrest.
He can’t wait to leave school and take his fights to the streets while Isabel looks forward to uni.
Mr M sees an opportunity for the two schools to work closer together by entering the fiery pair into a public speaking contest.
But it is set to end badly.
Fugard’s beautifully observed dialogue tempers the obvious political message with deft nuances. It didn’t go unnoticed that all the novels they were reading were by white English authors, Hardy, Shelly, Wordsworth et al or that the cast were segregated when not “on” (entering through white and non-white doors).
Directors Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington have created an engrossing and thrilling production that humanises a political ideology and struggle though leaves it to us to decide whether violence or debate can solve the world’s ills.
Nancy Surman’s impressive caged set emphasises the gulf between the races but reinforcing the fourth wall with barbed wire did, at times, alienate the audience trying to watch the performance.
My Children! My Africa! runs in the Trafalgar Studio Two until August 29.
Athol Fugard’s explosive drama, My Children! My Africa! offers two contrasting views on crushing apartheid as seen through the eyes of teenagers Isabel and Thami. Powerful and thought-provoking.