Mike van Graan’s new work When Swallows Cry opened at The Market Theatre last night, to a packed house. This play was commissioned by Ibsen International, a Norwegian Theatre Company, who asked 8 playwrights from around the world to produce new works on the theme of migration and refugees.
I have always respected van Graan as a man who has his finger on the pulse, and one to never shy away from speaking out and jolting people out of comfort. WHEN SWALLOWS CRY does exactly this. Lesedi Job and her mentor Megan Willson can be proud of this, her directorial debut, with the audience riveted from beginning to end, and a cast who created believable, and disturbingly real characters.
This play, tells three separate stories on three different continents, each dealing with people in foreign countries and their violent interactions with locals. Each of these stories makes the audience uncomfortable, raising issues of privilege, xenophobia and prejudice. We hear similar stories regularly as part of news reports, we read about events like these in the papers or online weekly, sometimes more frequently, and we have become numb to the emotions they should evoke, anger, sadness, frustration.
This work takes these stories and makes them real to the audience, making the characters real, letting the characters speak for their actions, and in this wakes the audience to some of the shocking realities lived daily in our world. The beauty in this piece by Mike van Graan is that the play makes no judgement, it tells the stories and allows the characters to speak for themselves. Letting the audience judge, if they so wish.
The play stars Warren Masemola who shines in the various roles he takes on in this work, with Mpho Osei-Tutu and Christiaan Schoombie who all had their work cut out for them, playing three different characters each, often times polar opposites of the character they were portraying seconds earlier, and each with a different accent. Accents are always difficult and on the whole they were pulled off well. A simple and effective set with lighting that worked well to create three very distinct, and all equally harsh settings, also contributed strongly to this great piece of theatre.
I highly recommend WHEN SWALLOWS CRY, it raises uncomfortable questions about privilege, prejudice and violence. Seeing this play, will make me think on the people involved in the stories I hear on the news, and not just brush the report aside as something happening far away. This also left me feeling somewhat hopeless, these three stories, that impacted on individuals in such a huge and dramatic way, but in effect made very little impact to the world and humanity at large.