Hold Still demands respect
by Diane de Beer
Production: Hold Still
If you have to think about all the crises in the world today, refugees are probably the most daunting and haunting. It is also the one that is most ignored on a universal scale, is always in catastrophic mode and affects every country, either because their citizens are fleeing, or they have to cope with an unmanageable influx.
When you are blessed with a writer like Nadia Davids who doesn’t only have the sensibility, but also insight as well as remarkable writing skills, she can tackle a topic of this overwhelming scale and find a way to shine the spotlight on the personal to bring it back home.
In the process, she also takes us through all the twists and turns of the crisis and has found a way of telling the story of one family, a progressive mother and father with their own generational trauma in their background. Rosa and Ben Feigel (Mwenya Kabwe and Andrew Buckland) are a mixed-race London couple with a teenage son, Oliver, (his name honours Tambo) whose political learnings have been nourished and encouraged by his parents.
They told him only about the heroics of specific events but not the price. “You protect your child from history,” is how they explain it.
So when he decides to offer a vulnerable friend a safe place in their home, all the trauma the parents have been carrying through most of their lives, spins out of control as they react with dramatic impact to their son’s actions.
They realise that they have sold him a story about themselves that’s so believable, even they started believing their own fiction – about themselves.
It’s heady and heavy stuff as the family are thrown into a hurricane of emotions as they try to walk their way through what might become a situation out of control.
His friend has experience and he knows how people react when confronted with the burden of people seeking refugee status for example, but their son is convinced his parents will do the right thing. “Some people can do the small stuff and it makes them feel big,” says the fleeing friend who has no expectations.
But when it comes to the crunch, it’s a tougher ask. And this is just part of what Davids reveals in this remarkable work, which isn’t only an extraordinary piece of writing, it also covers the heartache and wide reach that these dramatic life changes bring.
Director Jay Pather smartly allows the script to breathe and with acting wizards Buckland and Kabwe, it’s enthralling to witness the story come to life. The audience is on top of the stage and it works especially well here as you almost feel part of the heated situation in the home. And when each actor is given a heart-wrenching and revealing monologue, they bring their characters to life magnificently.
The youngsters, Lyle October as the son Oliver and Tailyn Ramsamy as the refugee, do their share with energy and commitment, all contributing to the end result.
It’s the kind of play I relish at a festival because of the brilliance and in spite of the sometimes harrowing content, the delight of witnessing something so special determines your entire festival.
It’s not often that everything works so magically at a first festival performance, but when your foundation is this strong, the building blocks so smartly selected, the rest can easily slip into place as it did here.
This is one that can be seen over and over again – for the script (first the writing, then the content) then the acting, and finally, the complete production.
It is a play that will linger and resonate for the longest time.