On Saturday evening Migrants Arts performed a two-man play The Island, at Madsoc Theatre in Lilongwe. A play about contentious issues of cultural imperialism and resistance to western domination.
The 50-minute play starring Thoko Kapiri as John and Mbene Mbunga Mwambene as Winstone tells a story of two migrant artists who almost by force must perform Antigone, a classic Greek play against their wish of telling their own stories.
The narrative is almost a personal story for the two Swiss-based art scholars who portray the challenges that Malawian and African scholars face in their pursuit of realising their dreams through the Western path.
From the word go, Winstone is clearly not comfortable to wear his character name as he prefers to be identified by his African name Mbene much to the consternation of his friend John who seems ready to do anything so long as he gets what is at the end of the deal.
“The connection in this context is that originally the play was based on Robin Island where two prisoners had to perform it for them to earn their freedom. For us Europe has become a prison, it is that island for us.
“For you to be admitted in their system you have to bend yourselves to fit in their strict line of rules. If you go there with the story of Kamuzu Banda as an artist they will say no. The story highlights the challenge to fit in an alien environment,” said co-director Kapiri.
The frustrations in the storyline hits a worrying reality with the admission from Kapiri that no matter how tough Africans find it in Europe, the place has a way of holding on to you because of what is on the other end of the bargain.
“It is a paradox, where you give up mentally but you are still doing it physically. The place has its ways where it frustrates you but still manages to keep hold of you because of the money it offers,” he said.
Kapiri has a word for Malawian youths who continue to face challenges and frustrations on the labour market and dream of trekking to Europe.
He said; “Be careful of what you dream of because it is not all paradise out there. Our perception of the world is about movement. Why do people migrate? Why would a Malawian want to move to South Africa? And why would a South African want to move to Europe?”
Among the sizeable audience on Saturday evening was Zodiak Broadcasting Station producer Joab Frank Chakhaza who said he was impressed with what he saw.
“The two actors are obviously very good actors of repute who have been exposed to other kinds of theatre. The play was rather complex and a bit abstract. It needed someone who understands theatre a lot to unpack what was contained in it,”he said.
But one thing brought to question is the level of understanding of theatre by most Malawians who may have found it difficult to follow and appreciate the storyline.
“It needed a deeper level of understanding to see what was going on, otherwise you could have taken it as a waste of time. I felt it is a play that was designed for an international audience.
“For the Malawian audience there were rather too many expletives which were used that some people would find rather uncomfortable. But basically that is part of art,” said Chakhaza.
Louise Kabwila, an Area 36 resident, said the performance was rare as it kept people on the edge of their seats as opposed to most Malawian performances which are straight forward and predictable.
The Island was originally written by Athol Fugard in the context of apartheid in South Africa and this was the second time it was being shown having been performed in Zurich, Switzerland last January. n