All posts by Anita Mensahbonsu

Man to Man – a unique an peculiar gender-bending play @ParkTheatre

Twenty-seven years after its premier and a successful run last year at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, Danielle Tarento has brought the one-woman play Man to Man, directed by Tilly Branson to London at the Park90 Theatre.

Manfred Karge’s Man to Man is often described as “poetic”. Telling a story spanning a 50-year period during the time of Nazi rule “poetically” can only be challenging.

Man to Man is a unique and peculiar gender-bending play about a working class woman impersonating her dead husband during World War II. The play is often credited for launching Tilda Swinton’s career. Tricia Kelly has a list of credible credits behind her and taking on this completely riveting one-woman tour-de-force, although ambitious given its complexity her 90 minute performance must be seen separately from Swinton’s past portrayal and is to be applauded.

Shortly after the death of her husband Ella comes to the realisation that her only possible means of survival is to become her dead husband, Max Gericke. Kelly’s portrayal of Max is marvellous and only her sensitive blue eyes remind us of the woman and the femininity she is desperately hiding. A military hairstyle, physical body transformation and the adaptation of male characteristics kept the entire audience in suspense. The one question on the forefront of the audience’s mind was: “Is Ella gonna get caught?”

There are some elements of the play that are easily overlooked. This may be because the social commentary is perhaps unintended. But for me, the role of Ella/Max represents “schizophrenia” at its best. Wearing a single fancy glossy red heel on the right foot and a worker’s dark shoe on the left foot, allows the audience to share the tension and paranoia lived by civilians in 1940s Germany.

There are many social comments that Branson could have chosen to highlight in this production but in many ways although she has clearly represented women’s voices in theatre; there was nothing new and innovative, it’s the same old rehash of arguments. We know that women can do what men do equally well and for that matter at times better. Drinking snaps, winning a food fight with one’s fellow male co-workers and ‘masterpiecing’ the role of a scientist are possibly not the best way to illustrate the equality of men and women. But then again there is the confines of the script to contend with.

Upon leaving the theatre, happy as I was for seeing a production that was a role for a woman that touched upon the social inequalities that existed in Nazi Germany and have yet to be eradicated from modern day society, part of the story remained unsolved. Curiously, it was not the 40-year deception of Ella being Max and the plausibility of this which resonated with me but rather the remains of her womanhood. Did she overcome the death of her husband? Did the pain really disappear? I think she wanted us to believe it had but I was not convinced? And, in the end, the loneliness and the acute fear she lived with daily did she believe that the price of her deception was too great a price to pay?

Man to Man runs until 30 November at the Park90 Theatre in Finsbury Park.

A human being died that night

All eyes are focussed on the crude cell where Eugene De Kock, played by Matthew Marsh, now lives. De Kock is more commonly referred to as “Prime Evil” because of the crimes he committed during the apartheid era.   Serving a 212 year jail sentence for the many murders he committed De Kock is interviewed by Pumla Godobo-Madikizela, played by Noma Dumezweni. Godobo-Madikizela is a psychologist and black. She wishes to explore not the barbarous acts he committed against her race but rather to understand what the motivation was that made him become a mass murderer, a paid assassin.

Under the direction of Jonathan Munby, Marsh and Dumezweni’s performances of Nicholas Wright’s play is, intense and powerful. The play centres on strong emotional feelings. As Godobo-Madikizela sits across from De Kock we find her empathetic because she sees De Cock as a tortured soul facing a 212-year jail sentence. By the end of the play we find De Cock accepting the notion of receiving forgiveness.

Writer, Nicolas Wright came across Professor Pumla Gobodo-Maikizelaka’s award winning book by chance. He recognised that her documenting of interviews with De Cock could be adapted for the stage to tell the story of not only the atrocities of apartheid but also of global empowerment and the healing South African society must now embrace.

In the intimate darkness of Hampstead Downstairs, Matthew Marsh and Noma Dumezweni’s vivid and powerful performances are at times harsh in their reality and difficult to watch, thankfully, Marsh’s British accent betrays him in the middle of the play, providing some relief from the message, after all it is not easy to imitate a South African accent.

Students here at Birkbeck studying apartheid, the healing of nations after conflict, psychology or other related areas of studies may find this play provides insight into the minds of one of the most notorious assassins in our era. The play also highlights forgiveness and reconciliation after a nation has been through conflict. For this and other reasons the play is recommended as a must see but be warned the message is not filtered.

Cast:               Noma Dumezweni, Matthew Marsh,

Venue:           Hampstead Theatre, London (underground: Swiss Cottage, NW3)

Box office:     020 7722 9301, www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Price:             From £12 up to £20, until 21 June 2014

The Glorification Of A Culture Or a Vulgar Fashionization?

Many events recently highlighted the issue of Westerners wearing a bindi (forehead decoration), a blackface and/or a Native American headdress at parties. Is this the embracement of a culture or just a vulgar fashionisation?

Opening that discussion should not be controversial. And it should especially not been seen as an umpteenth pamphlet on the victimisation of ethnic minorities.

When you are going to a foreign country and facing customs established there, would you go around and “challenge” those unwritten authorities? Well if you do, it’s what locals call rudeness! In fact, the excuse of ignorance is hardly acceptable nowadays, knowing the fact that we are living in a digital era – an era where we are submerged with knowledge on a daily basis.

Of course there is a tendency of laxity, but still. It is a matter of respect, to follow and imitate the crowd when you are a visitor. You cannot, for example, arrive in a temple wearing dirty sneakers while you are surround by priests walking barefoot.

Ms Yue, my former Cantonese tutor, explained to me how hard it was for her to stop spitting and putting her finger in her nose in public. In China it’s common, and not because they are nasty folks, but because of the polluted air. This blocks the airway (breathe a heavy air on a daily basis you will see that you will feel the need to spit more often) and the blockages in our noses are dust retained by our nasal hairs.

You may be asking yourself: why did I take the time to describe some foreign habits before coming to my cultural point? Simply because I want to underline that there is no difference!

Why should someone wear a blackface to a Hallowe’en party and in worst case associate this with primitive clothes, shouting some monkey sounds? Why should it be accepted and seen as a “funny way” to embrace a culture? This is where it goes wrong. It’s racist! “Glorifying” an ethnic minority by using degrading stereotypes is wrong.

If you want to embrace a culture or a community do it in an appropriate manner! Wear an Afro wig or a custom kente outfit.   Wearing the Native American headdress while drinking and smoking weed at a festival is a no-no as well. Do you know the meaning of that headdress? Most of us don’t! So can you understand how in an inappropriate way most people are wearing it?

Let’s be clear this is not a reproduction of the Salem witch trials. I just want to raise attention to this unstoppable trend of cultural vulgarisation that surrounds us.

I am all for the embracement of diverse cultures, but think of how you do it.

You can wear a headdress if you know its cultural meaning, if you wear it in a respectful way (if you understand that you can’t wear this at a booze party and use it to clean your vomit).

One of my closest friends occasionally wears a bindi – and has done this since she was a child (not for special occasions like parties, but on a daily basis) – even though she has no Asian background. She loves the way it illuminates the woman figure in Asian culture. (In South Asia it’s not necessarily only worn by married woman but points out the place of wisdom, “the sixth chakra”, traditionally said to be seated between the eyebrows. I asked her if she knew the meaning of it, or whether she wore it for fashion. She attested that she knew its significance.

We are living in a place where the South Asian community is strongly represented. Many have stopped my friend while we have been walking on the street to share with her their appreciation and to tell her how pretty it looks on her. Weirdly it’s her Western classmates who interpret her bindi as a bad trend she is following. Now she wonders whether what she is doing may be wrong after all. I replied to her: as long as you know that you are not doing anything inappropriate while wearing it, that you are respecting the meaning of that bindi, go for it! And spread the embracement of the Asian culture.