Orpheus in Africa

Seen on February 14, 2015 @ The Fugard (Cape Town)

Valentine’s Day evening for my wife and I consisted of dinner and a show. David Kramer’s Orpheus in Africa tells the true story of the African-American Orpheus McAdoo, who – together with his musical ensemble – ventured into South Africa, being confronted with a hostile environment towards black people. The ensemble struggles with these perceptions, but also has substantial internal drama and romance.

Struggles

It was nice to see that the racial struggles were rather subtle in the play. Kramer definitely had the option to make this a lot more heavy and burdened, but him choosing not to do so, allowed to focus more on the story of the people than on the context. And the story of the people is an even stronger voice in racial issues, so this was a great choice.

In terms of internal struggles, especially the debates on repertoire were food for thought. The ensemble started as a gospel singing group, not just because of success, but also (and maybe especially) because of religious convictions. The ensemble lives in a time where interest for religious music however is declining and more entertainment oriented musical genres are receiving increased attention. Orpheus is faced with the challenge of running a profitable business that might contrast with personal convictions.

Overall, the plot was quite thin, to be honest. Of course Kramer wants to tell the story of Orpheus and that leaves little room for creativity, but it doesn’t work towards a climax. It feels quite drawn out on one hand, but then on the other hand just stops completely unexpected. The danger of portraying entire biographies always runs the risk of feeling fragmented and unfocused and this is the case with Orpheus in Africa as well.

orpheusGreat Performances

Luckily the musical and theatrical performances were of very high quality. Aubrey Poo led the band of actors convincingly and showed both his acting and singing skills. Also his female counterpart, Lynelle Kenned, put down a strong performance.

The public’s favourite has to be the amazing Sne Dladla. In several different roles he brought comedy to heavy scenes through bodily and facial expression, and a characteristic control and timbre of voice. Both his role and his performance were a necessary addition to the play.

The music itself, with a mix of old and new songs, was fresh and creative. As said, even though the plot was not very strong, the music made the whole entertaining and definitely worth the watch.