When exploring the life of an author, there is no better way to tell it than with their own words. This is exactly what A Voice I Cannot Silence does. Based on the life of Alan Paton, the author of the international best seller Cry, the Beloved Country, over ninety percent of the script was created from extracts in Alan Paton’s work.
Knowing this, you walk into the play with a different mindset. I knew this would make the play much more personal, but I was curious to see how weaving Alan Paton’s words, extracts, letters and material from his wife Anne Paton’s autobiography would create a well rounded representation of the South African author and anti-apartheid activist. It turns out, it does a pretty good job. So much so that it is the recipient of three Naledi awards.
Most of the play takes place in a small set of Paton’s study in the middle the stage. The story unfolds through a series of monologues and interactions between Paton and his secretary (later wife) Anne Hopkins. Together they take you through the highlights of Paton’s life, from his years as Principal of Diepkloof Reformatory to his time as President of the Liberal Party.
The play starts off a bit slow. It takes a few minutes to get into the groove of things, but once you settle in, you are taken on an emotional and engaging journey. The play celebrates Paton’s outstanding dedication to opposing Apartheid, but does not shy away from the less flattering parts of his character. You see a man who helped shape South Africa’s freedom, but you also see the conflicted and complex man struggling with the world he finds himself in.
Ralph Lawson who plays Alan Paton, perfectly captures all of this, from the eloquent speaker and cocky school master, to the guilt ridden man struggling with parts of his past. He is energetic, funny and sincere and does an incredible job of bringing paton’s words to life. Clare Mortimer complements Lawson’s performance to the tee. She acts as pseudo narrator and engages with both the audience and Lawson who such ease. Menzi Mkhwane plays Sponono, a boy from Diepkloof Reformatory who Paton often thinks about throughout the play. He is like a ghost haunting Paton’s thoughts. Mkhwane adds a new dimension to the play.
I laughed, I cried and most importantly I learnt more about the brillant man behind the book Cry, the Beloved Country. Whether you are a fan of Paton or not, you will find something in this play that will move you deeply.
UPDATE: The run for A Voice I cannot Silence has been extended due to popular demand. It will be at the Fugard until Saturday 2 July.
When Wednesday 15 June 2016 at 8 pm (until Saturday 2 July)
Where Fugard Theatre, Corner Caledon and Lower Buitenkant Streets, District Six
Cost R120 – R160 at Computicket
Contact +27 21 461 4554, www.thefugard.com
Photography courtesy Val Adamson