|Play fails to thrill audience at Hifa|
|Wednesday, 16 May 2012 20:31|
The evening turned out to be very historic one for me. It was my first time at Hifa to watch a play from South Africa where some members of the audience walked out in the middle of the performance.
The atmosphere in the theatre was that of a crowd of theatre lovers expecting to roar in laughter — something Hifa audiences tend to hunt for in plays from outside the country especially given the view that local plays tend to be pre-occupied with what is regarded as depressing socio-political issues presented in rather un-artistic manner.
It was evident that like most audiences at Hifa, that evening’s audience expected “Dogs Must Be Crazy”, like any play from South Africa, to be a standard bearer, a sample of quality theatre and a show case of what to emulate.
Foreign theatre productions to Hifa are always expected to meet these expectations of both the ordinary members of the audience and theatre practitioners.
“Dogs Must Be Crazy” was also advertised as “bristling with black humour” in a show that “ digs up many of our absurdities with an irrelevant, energetic and demandingly glee and recently playing to standing ovations at the Western Cape Schools Festival.”
The seven actors were presented as dogs that barked their monologues and dialogues throughout the hour or so of performance.
The vocalised human speech was only the recordings of Nelson Mandela on the future of democratic South Africa.
There must have been reasons for the audience at the Wednesday show to find it difficult, at the end of the performance, to show the enthusiasm and standing ovation expected.
It may have been the failure of the audience to appreciate the South African socio-political scene presented and to discern the characters portrayed by the dogs, issues being dealt with, statements being made by the play, the “pressing concerns of our age” and the “many absurdities in bristling black humour.”
The audience seemed to struggle to figure out what the play was all about.
The highly expressively gestures and varied dog barking sounds that were expected to convey clearly recognisable meanings or situations may have clearly exposed, from the current South African socio-political scene easily discernible to South Africans.
It seemed that the Hifa 2012 audience found it difficult to discern characters and events depicted.
There were equally indistinguishable doggy facial expressions, doggy gestures and doggy barkings that did not help the audience used to conventional verbal narrative drama to appreciate stories, incidents, characters presented.
It seemed that most of the audience did not understand the language that presented the selected absurdities of the contemporary socio-political scene in South Africa.
The humour the audience was eager to consume did not come through as easily as one would have expected. It must be the search for humour that exhausted the audience.
It could also be the failure by the audience to find meaning in the theatrical performance that may have created a very cool response to the show.
After the show I spoke a group of Zimbabwean thespians directors, producers, actors and writers who asked each other many questions which showed that they too found it difficult to make heads and tail of the play.
One actor stressed that at Hifa theatre artists seek access to foreign theatre productions that inspire emulation and that “Dogs Must Be Crazy” was not such a production.
The actor went on to say that he thought that the show had neither theatre aesthetic spectacle nor inspiring aesthetic experience to treasure.
He argued that while the concept of a drama presented by barking dogs may be considered as highly original in the Zimbabwean theatre scene, it was neither attractive nor worth experiment with and that therefore the production could not be seen as influencing the theatre growth and development in Zimbabwe.
However a young theatre director who saw the play on 5th May said that “Dogs Must Be Crazy” was a stylistically unique piece of theatre — apiece that jolted audiences out of the conventional verbally dominated theatre tradition to experience an innovative theatre form.
He saw the play as a statement that theatre artists should continue be experimentalists in terms of seeking other forms of theatre language that speaks innovatively to contemporary audience.
He stated: “Dogs Must Be Crazy” was a good example of theatre innovation that drags out audiences and theatre practitioners from the conventional theatre trappings that tend to limit theatre artists’ creative freedoms.”
The young theatre director argued that if the audience that is accustomed to the predominantly verbally narrated drama is not moved by this innovation, one should not find fault with the innovation but with the theatre environment that churns out, regularly and perpetually, the same conventional theatre form.
He wondered how anybody could miss such magnificent presentation, in mimetic dialogue.
They were scenes that expressed the absurdities of the xenophobic environment portrayed through the burning of a foreign “dog” in a shack, and in many other scenes on BEE, the contradictory positions and actions of leading politicians of the day and the dynamic political events in contemporary South Africa.
An actor who responded to this young theatre director’s evaluation of the “Dogs Must Be Crazy” said that the easily bored Zimbabwean theatre audience that looked forward to being engaged through-out the 60 or so minutes with what they could understand, what they could relate to or what they could interpret cannot be regarded as being blind to innovative theatre.
He stressed that the technique of mimed narrative where human beings are presented in form of barking dogs to deal with controversies and absurdities in the current South African socio-political scene cannot be regarded as unconventional and precedent shattering work of theatre but a very strange and ineffectively executed theatrical experiment.
The actor pointed out that to many Zimbabwean audience “Dogs Must Be Crazy” was an indigestible and coarse dish of satire with unrecognisable black humour and that therefore the Hifa 2012 audience was more puzzled that being thrilled by the play.