by Zuleit Matthys
Adaptation & Direction: Nelago Shilongoh
Playwright: August Wilson
Cast: David Ndjavera, Hazel Hinda, Lucky Pieters, Blessing Mbonambi, Gift Uzera and Lee-andro Neshila.
Set in 1994, Shilongoh’s adaptation of FENCES is not just a play on the Contract Labour System of Namibia, it takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Recalling the effects of the Contract Labour System on the family and social lives of the workers with blatant intensity, Shilongoh hit the nail on the head.
The almost four hour long play has well-paced production elements and good casting, which proves worthy of the admission price. ‘Pele’, played by renowned actor, playwright and director, David Ndjavera gives an outstanding performance, which is even perfectly aligned next to Hazel Hinda, who plays Pele’s wife Rosalia. Hinda has the correct emotion and characterization her character needs to be able to live around Pele’s chauvinistic and mansplaining persona.
The relationship between Pele and his son, Shetu, played by Gift Uzera, is possibly the most intense, as Pele’s desperation to spoil his son’s ambition of playing football tests to fall into a wreckage of another father-and-son relationship.
Also worth mentioning is the great performance of Lucky Pieters and Blessing Mbonambi, who played Pele’s friend, Lazarus and his older brother Naftali, respectively. Even though he is a cheerful listener (and drinker), Lazarus is not afraid to call a spade, a spade. He is possibly the right man to take Pele to school and back, while supporting his friend’s sometimes over-interpreted take on past events. Naftali suffers from the psychological effects of the war and spends his days frustrated. Both Pieters and Mbonambi deliver a strong presence on the stage.
When the cast turn’s their back to the audience, it doesn’t feel wrong. It gives meaning to the stage props, which I must say has an excitingly eccentric design. Perhaps it will throw you off a bit here and there, but that’s the magic of the theatre in it’s full splendour.
When Pele’s older son, Johnny, played by Lee-andro Neshila, who has the ‘hopeless’ dream of making it into the music business, appears, there rare awkward moments with his stage presence. This, I think would’ve been avoided. It makes one cringe a bit.
As the play stretches on, Shilongoh tests her directing skills by incorporating a live demonstration of the work environment of Contract Labourers. This element greatly outplays the cinematic, and very unnecessary, screenings of the actual footage of the ‘past’. I cannot simply wrap my head around that.
Overall, even though one would expect it to be excellent (given the seemingly large crew) the play is good, Shilongoh might have that one in the bag. This is a must-see production. It premiers tonight, Thursday 9 August at NTN Backstage. A Ticket goes for N$100 while students and the elderly pay N$60. Doors open at 19:00 on both days.