Seen on July 8, 2016 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
You are put on a bus with people unknown to you, driven away from the lights and festivities to an abandoned place, surrounded by shacks. You are told to get out and follow the guide. Was it not for the fires burning gentle, the place would be pitch black. As you enter the no man’s land the old grafitti still screams and bodies are spread on the tarmac. Scattered everywhere, no sign of breathing. Are they for real? A bus has lost all windows and bodies hang out in akward position, put in place by whatever force that caused their death. A old man and a young boy roam through the place, wondering where to go next after all that has happened. Afraid to be caught by rebels the older man constantly hushes the young boy. Memories scattered all over, what has happened?
Although brought here, the audience is very unsettled about the whole story that is set in war-torn Mozambique at the end of the civil war. Our two protagonists have fled from a refugee camp and are against one’s will bound to stay together, trying to find a way out of this apocalyps. As they travel together the ghosts of war doom up from behind them and the scattered bodies come alive as frightening memories of the live they had before the war taking unsolved conflicts into an unconscious nightmare. The night is cold, eerie.
Searching for any sign of life there are letters and no food. These letters are keys to open the story of what had happened.
What must have been is recreated as the play is twice interrupted by the guide who invites the spectators to take a close look. So from the unfriendly cold we move into the burned out bus where we sit in the bus chairs and the play resumes back and front of the bus. The drama happens in front of us and it no longer feels comfortable: the sniffing of ghosts, the penetrating gazes of the actors in grey dresses and white paint and the anguish of war come scary close. Without any idea where to go next we are invited to the abandoned building were you stand amidst the many ghost whose unpredictable moves are not comforting at all.
At last we are led out, back to the bus, without a moment to applaud and loud laughter that keeps you puzzled.
Sleepwalking land is an uncomforting experience that takes an audience into a wasteland with grief, memory and brutal attacks. The intervention of the guide breaks the flow of the piece substantially. The set, costumes, place of play and concept to succeed in confronting with the atrocities, meaning and unsettling of roaming through a war-torn please.
Photography: CuePix/Jane Berg – National Arts Festival 2016