SA’s silent children given a loud voice
The Children’s Monologues dramatises testimonies of young children from Rammulotsi township in the Free State, highlighting their plight of poverty and conflict
Ask children from Rammulotsi township in Viljoenskroon, Free State to describe a day in their lives and the reply will illustrate the harrowing truths of the failure to see their needs and their small sparks of hope.
This is the basis for The Children’s Monologues, staged for the second year on Monday night — at the same time as the production premiers at New York’s Carnegie Hall, directed by award-winning directors James Ngcobo locally and Danny Boyle (of Slumdog Millionaire fame).
Besides being in the news for a pit-toilet saga central to a service delivery debate during the May 2011 local government elections, Rammulotsi is seldom in the public eye.
The Children’s Monologues dramatises testimonies of young children from Rammulotsi, highlighting their plight of poverty and conflict.
This is a one night-only fund-raising event for Dramatic Need, a creative arts charity that uses arts education to develop confidence, empower vulnerable youth and provide nonviolent means of expression in the face of conflict, trauma and hardship.
Founded in 2007 by New Zealand-born and British-based actress Amber Sainsbury with Boyle as a trustee, Dramatic Need runs community arts centres and full-time participatory arts programming for children in rural and poorly served communities in SA and Rwanda.
The Children’s Monologues were first staged at London’s Old Vic Theatre in 2010 and later for their fifth anniversary at the Royal Court Theatre in 2015, directed by Boyle.
The testimonies are adapted for stage by top British and US playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, Lynn Nottage and Neil LaBute and SA’s playwrights Napo Masheane, Amy Jephta and Mongiwekhaya Mthombeni, who added the necessary local nuance to some of the children’s stories.
The Monologues’ biggest attraction is the casting of celebrated acting talent. Casts have included Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, James McAvoy and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The Carnegie Hall cast includes stars such as Charlize Theron, Trevor Noah, Susan Sarandon, Ewan McGregor and Daniel Kaluuya.
Local television producer and playwright Mfundi Vundla was approached to be the South African ambassador for Dramatic Need and he roped in Ngcobo to produce SA’s first The Children’s Monologues at the Market Theatre in 2016.
"The monologues present tough stories reflecting tough conditions that young people in our country find themselves in," Vundla says.
"I find it moving that we’re giving young children a platform to speak in their own voice. And if we listen to them speak for themselves, there’s a lot we can learn — not only about them, but about the state of our country."
Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw says it is healing to be heard. In one of the monologues, a child opens up about being raped by her uncle — her grandmother’s favourite son. The child has never disclosed this to her family, yet has some of the biggest stars in the world telling her story on renowned stages.
While the compassion is evident from the teams that staged the two London productions of The Children’s Monologues, locally there’s a deeper responsibility to staging this show.
"These monologues are touching on a void for these young children.
"They’re touching on the erosion of the family structure, a lack of commitment from a father, brother or mother and the often blurred lines of these roles," says Ngcobo.
"They present something real about how these children are brought up and how they live. This is not about us being stuck in an artistic bubble. There’s a responsibility for us to reflect on how we guide our young," he says.
"These monologues are in direct conversation with what the Market Theatre is known for — to take stories of people that will never have monuments erected in their names, and to put them on a pedestal using the power of the pen and the arts."
He has assembled an artistic team of young and old in a deliberate effort to create a cross-generational encounter. The local production also features an all-female cast to symbolise how female bodies give life to children.
The local cast, which is doing this performance free of charge, includes dancer and choreographer Lulu Mlangeni, Emmy-nominated actress Thuso Mbedu, veteran theatre and television actress Fiona Ramsay, playwright and poet Masheane and budding theatre and television actress Zola Nombona.
Ngcobo, who has a good ear for music and an eye for soulful collisions of interdisciplinary art, is crafting a production featuring poetic dance accompanied by a five-piece band with celebrated guitarist Bheki Khoza and vocalist Nokukhanya Dlamini. The music and dance will help counterbalance the weight of the tragic content.
Tickets cost R200 at www.webticket.co.za