It is not an easy feat to bring to life the work of an internationally celebrated wordsmith in a manner that does justice to his highly-praised prose standard. One would not blame even the most talented of playwrights for shying away from such a task, especially if the wordsmith in question be novelist Alan Paton, author of the acclaimed Cry, the Beloved Country.
Hats off to Greg Homann and Ralph Lawson for stepping up to the challenge in a spectacular fashion and penning A Voice I Cannot Silence, a play that is lyrically witty and wordy without being superfluous. The play is quick paced and your brain will jump through hoops to keep up with the genius of Alan Paton’s shrewd liberal mind as portrayed by Ralph Lawson. However, the experience is worth the mental gymnastics. The text is exquisitely woven with gems that will leave you snickering at the humour of the incorrigible ego that was Alan Paton. But most prominently exposed is the character of the man that echoes through his letters so eloquently cited in the script.
It shows him in all his personality facets: caring husband, sarcastic academic, and political activist. It even poignantly highlights his guilt-ridden inner demons as a man who tried to promote justice but inadvertently feared he rather contributed to the unjustness of it all. This is most strikingly revealed through the telling of his time as the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for Young Offenders and his “forgiveness driven” relationship with Sponono, movingly portrayed by the talented Menzi Mkhwane.
While this relationship makes you question the degree and ferocity of his remedial measures of reform, his relationship with his straight-talking PA and later second wife, Anne Hopkins, endearingly played by Clare Mortimer, makes your heart crumble again as you witness his vivacity, charm, and passion for his work.
The play jumps between introspective monologue and memory depiction through subtle transitions which, through clever use of stage and lighting design, serves to illustrate, even punctuate, this theatrical glimpse into the life of a complex literary legend. As so expressively phrased by theatre friend, Michael Cass,
"It felt like opening a time capsule to a world in which your grandfather lived. Excellent writing and sharp wit provide an entertaining parody of the life of Alan Paton, with much food for thought on the context of the society in which we live.”
A Voice I Cannot Silence has the feel of a genuine reflection of a vigorously defiant, flawed man who believed in upholding the right of dignity for all, whether that be as a consequence of a true liberal heart or a repentant soul…
You can see this enthralling play, directed by Greg Homann, at the Fugard Theatre until 25 June 2016. Book your tickets to this look into the life of Alan Paton at Computicket.