Cry, the beloved country

The cast of Amajuba act out the stories of their lives under apartheid
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The Independent Culture

After its success as part of 2004's Bite season at the Barbi-can in London, and at last year's Edinburgh Festival, Amajuba arrives at the Criterion, London, for an eight-week run.

After its success as part of 2004's Bite season at the Barbi-can in London, and at last year's Edinburgh Festival, Amajuba arrives at the Criterion, London, for an eight-week run.

The five narratives of Amajuba: Like Doves We Rise, recounted by five actors, paint a vivid portrayal of survival in South Africa's townships. Each is stained with the brutal reality of growing up in a tough, impoverished world. Mark Groucher, who produces in association with the Oxford Playhouse, and who first saw it at Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms, describes Amajuba as "everything true theatre should be".

The director Yael Farber explains: " Amajuba was created as a celebration of the survival of the spirit against the exceptionally harsh environment of South Africa. It is a tribute to the tenacity of the soul's refusal to lose hope.

"The performers share their very personal experiences of growing up in the townships and surviving the consequences of apartheid. What emerges in the telling of these stories is the resilience and personal power that the average young black South African utilises to survive." Farber adds: "South Africa is a nation of countless stories that will never be told, for there are too many sorrows to recount."

Astonishingly, the stories Amajuba tells are the real-life stories of its five actors: Tshallo Chokwe, France Conradie, Bongi Mpangwana, Philip "Tipo" Tindisa, and Jabulile Tshabalala. This gives the drama's dialogue, mime and songs searing conviction. The stories present vivid images in word and movement; the dialogue is poetic, and serves solely as a spoken truth on behalf of the many South Africans who suffered under apartheid. The politics of that regime take on greater significance when they are embodied in human form, rather than conveyed as metaphor, or simile.

The narratives are sometimes interwoven - at other moments, actors are isolated on stage, held in silences that allow their stories to breathe and be fully recognised by the audience. The performances are very physical, and illustrate how apartheid affected the individuals and their five families. Each actor recalls their experience of apartheid from childhood, and the audience is faced with actors in their thirties playing their childhood selves.

Groucher says: "Rather than the whole big picture of apartheid, you are given access to a 10-year-old's experience of trying to understand why her father has been taken away and beaten by white South African police. As harrowing things are revealed, you have to take it more seriously because you know the actors on stage have lived through what they are acting. It is their story."

The result is a mix of personal testimony that highlights the unshakeable determination of each individual to move forward. Woven through these stories are the beautiful, rich songs that are an intrinsic part of worship in South Africa.

'Amajuba', Criterion Theatre, London W1 (0870 060 2313), 5 April to 28 May

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