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SPOILS OF WAR (article first published : 2005-04-9)

Earlier this year, a production titled The Spoils of War appeared in Liege, Belgium, to tremendous acclaim and a standing ovation that lasted 15 minutes.

The Drama and Performance Studies Programme of the University of KwaZulu-Natal had been invited to develop a production for the 22nd RITU Theatre Festival in Belgium and The Spoils of War was the result.

The thought-provoking and hard-hitting play is directed by Tamar Meskin who adapted the work with Mervyn McMurtry. In her programme director’s note, Tamar states that she “wanted to make a piece of theatre for an international audience that would reflect our own unique context but also speak to the world.” The script was workshopped with the cast using a considerable number of Greek texts and influenced by the words of so-called peace/(war?) mongers such as George W Bush, “proclaiming of his right to impose his version of liberty on the world.”

While making strong reference to the war in Troy, this production transcends time and would be just as relevant for the Crimean War, World War II, the Vietnam conflict and the armed struggle in Apartheid South Africa or present-day Iraq.

This is one of the best casts I’ve seen from this department, with each giving a consistent, well-articulated and believable performance. The honours go to Libby Allen as The Woman, forced to give up her child to be killed in order for the General to make a statement. Liam Magner is a chilling smooth-talking General, infatuated with his own silky rhetoric as he justifies his dastardly deeds in the name of freedom.

Marc Kay – whom audiences will remember from his appearance in the long-running Aladdin Trouble – proves that he’s not just the handsome face and good body of Aladdin. As the Soldier whose “honour is measured in obedience”, he was tormented between the discipline of his army training and his own belief of what is right and wrong. His reasoning that there should be mercy in victory is overthrown by his superior’s need for total power.

S’mangele Msimang was a spirited Seer and impressed with her clear diction while Phila Myeni brought a sense of dignity and inevitability to the role of The Poet.

Mervyn McMurtry’s set is highly effective with a stage surrounded by crumpled newspaper and black rubbish bags set off by a scrim appliquéd with cut-outs of children’s clothing. I liked the lighting effects which played on it as the conflict rages.

Considering the response from the Belgian audience, this production has obviously achieved its objective in hitting the right note for an international audience. It is a highly professional production which also focuses on the suffering of women in a male-imposed scenario of conflict. I believe it would make an excellent production for the Playhouse Company’s Women’s Festival later this year. The female roles are clearly drawn in this scenario where the victor takes home the fairest of women as slaves, their cry being “Don’t call me victim – there’s only hatred and acceptance.”

If you can, catch Spoils of War’s last performance tomorrow night (April 9) at 19h00 at the Square Space Theatre on the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus. Tickets R20 (R10 students/scholars). – Caroline Smart




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