Jade Bowers (2016 Standard Bank Young Artist, Naledi Theatre Awards Best Director for Scorched) and Ameera Patel (Naledi Theatre Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Scorched) join forces to present ‘Black’.
Based on CA Davids’ 2014 novel ‘The Blacks of Cape Town’, Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award-winning writer/director Penny Youngleson has written an adaptation for stage which intricately balances the poetry and pain of discovery, of unpacking history and the drama of family politics. It will see accomplished actress Patel tackling her first one-hander, under the directorial hand of Bowers, and with musical composition and accompaniment by Daniel Geddes. Choosing, as always, to highlight stories which are not part of the mainstream cannon, Bowers considers: “At this important moment in our country’s history, how do we as South Africans – with our multitude of cultures and lived experiences – look at our past to understand our present and future.”
For Patel, it has brought up a lot of questions around the baggage that we carry with us, “that should maybe just be left in the past”. While based abroad, historian Zara Black (Patel) learns via an officious but vague letter from the South African government, that documents once sealed and implicating her father in an act (which, while not clearly defined, was committed against the anti-apartheid movement decades earlier) will soon be released to the public. The resultant unearthing of her own past begins with Isaiah Black – the grandfather that ‘started it all’ when he stole a handful of diamonds from one of the world’s largest diamond mines in Kimberley. This act, however, is overshadowed by what the family considers his far greater crime – concealing his (mixed) race to escape the harsh realities of the mines before abandoning his mother and ultimately changing his name. His choice of surname is not without irony; because having been classified as mixed, he had passed as white, but had given rise to a line of coloured children and grandchildren. His granddaughter Zara finds herself alone and displaced in New Jersey, caught up in the excitement of an American election of a new and historic president, while trying to make sense of South Africa of the past and present: constructing a history for herself and her family from fragmented recollections and family lore.
Bowers goes on to explain: “Many have been the productions that made us aware of the ‘white’ experience, of the ‘black’ experience; the latter often in the service of the wider cause of political emancipation. In the process an awareness of our much-vaunted diversity has suffered as apartheid’s nefarious simplicity divided people into white and non-white, blind to differences of class, religious affiliation and a labyrinth of other nuances that make people cultural beings. ‘Black’ is authentically South African theatre and an important reminder that democracy is about celebrating our unique diversity.”
‘Black’ premiers on the Arena programme at the National Arts Festival (29 Jun – 2 Jul), and will play subsequently in Johannesburg at the 969 Festival (26 – 29 Jul), and at PopArt (3 – 6 Aug).