Yililiza (South Africa)
M-G This is another of only a couple of works in the festival that felt like it could be as at home on a state arts centre stage as a fringe one.
PAYNE Who wrote this?
M-G So it’s an adaptation of a story Kafka wrote – ‘A Report to the Academy’ – in 1917.
PAYNE An appropriate show for Prague.
M-G And it’s been adapted a fair bit over the years. Actually, here’s a link to the Kafka text http://johnstoniatexts.x10host.com/kafka/reportforacademyhtml.html
PAYNE OK. I’ve read it. How did the performance differ?
M-G To be honest I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it didn’t- it was very faithful. I believe there was more text than Kafka’s – but perhaps that’s my imagination, because, Tom, the performer was extensive in his portrayal. He was terrifying, seductive, tortured,- this list would be exhaustive so I won’t go on. He mined the depths of human experience. The pleasure and more often than not- the pain.
PAYNE And you recommend others experience that?
M-G For the most part yes. These are pains that we should feel. Pains that exist that we – in our relative comfort and privilege might otherwise ignore.
PAYNE And this performer is from where?
M-G Ah so, he is a black man, from Tanzania, and then Johannesburg. Hang on I only know that because he said it in the show. So, there was extra text. Yes, yes it comes back to me now. There was a lot of placing the work within a South African context.
PAYNE And site-specific, with the body as well as the text as the site of conflict.
M-G And it was undeniably confronting – a black body – the themes of colonialism, racism, slavery were rinsed through the work.
PAYNE You said a lot of people wept at this work?
M-G And at times also giggled and thrilled – the performer – he could be as generous as he was cruel.
PAYNE In service of…?
M-G Very much in service of Kafka’s text, and the performer (Tony Miyambo) and director/co-adaptor Phala, O Phala’s own crucial viewpoints – as people living in post-apartheid South Africa. Though Tom I think if somehow you came upon the work and knew nothing of S.A., the work too, it maintained, a wider critique of humanity in general – and ultimately, also, an examination of the human condition… as well as the constant thread of South African context.
PAYNE The design?
M-G Quality touring scale, simple and effective and so for much of the work there was a large poster hanging at the rear of the stage, announcing the great lecture that we were then privy to. And, Tom, I’m not sure if it was on purpose from the production, or if it was my own experience weaving it into meaning, but I was fondly reminded of the Origins Museum at Witwatersrand University (in Johannesburg). And for me most of the show took place there, on top of a hill, in a city that perhaps should not ever have existed, were it not for the lust for gold.
PAYNE For power. From one city of gold to another.
PAYNE Because Prague is known as the Golden City.
M-G And Johannesburg is also called Gauteng – which translates as Place of Gold.
M-G And the design then also -it, ultimately, evoked a certain brutality and sense of loss.
PAYNE What did it sound like? Johannesburg to me, one part of it, is the music.
M-G And for the most part that music- in this show, lived in the performers body, and his voice. I mentioned before that he changed his body, and use of space to reference the body-that-was-ape, and so he did with his voice. An incredible range. From parody of Englishness, to a throaty death metal growl. And variations on his own – well let’s say his human voice between.
PAYNE He could be himself and the other.
M-G A significant work.
PAYNE How many broken shackles out of five?
M-G Five gold bars out of five.