Mixed Metaphors (2006)

It is 2006.  Two young women in their early twenties meet.  Both are daughters of 1976-generation activists.  They meet 30 years after the student uprisings that were a watershed in South African political history.  One, Lerato, is a performance poet who, despite the changes in the country, is still politically aware and committed.  The other, Cindy, is a Model C school graduate who believes that the struggle is over, and now its fruits are to be enjoyed.From their initial antagonistic meeting, they become friends and later discover just how intimately their histories are linked. 

The play explores contemporary youth issues, and raises a number of questions such as whether knowing one’s past is helpful or not, the extent to which education and social upbringing impact on one’s worldviews and whether it is legitimate to expect today’s youth to be socially engaged.

The play features a performance poet who uses poetry as a vehicle for making sharp and critical social commentary about contemporary South Africa. The title is a reference to the use of poetry, but also to an actual line in the play alluding to the nature of power.

History

Mixed Metaphors was entered into the 2005 NLDTF/PANSA Festival of Reading of New Writing (One and Two-handers) as a play that featured a veteran “coloured” protest poet in his late forties, disillusioned with some of the changes in the New South Africa, and a young “African” female arts journalist.  It was one of three finalists in that competition in November 2005.

In December 2005, Aubrey Sekhabi, Artistic Director of the State Theatre contacted me to offer him a slot in the last few weeks of the current financial year i.e. to open in February and run till late March 2006.  With his two other plays - Some Mothers' Sons and Two to Tango -already marked for production in the first quarter of 2006, I suggested that State Theatre stages Mixed Metaphors to which Sekhabi agreed.

The timing – end of year, summer holidays, etc – was not great, but auditions were held with Jaco Bouwer, director of the staged reading, agreeing to direct a full production.  Given that 2006 would mark the thirtieth anniversary of 1976, I rewrote the script to include two young people of the opposite sex, but of a similar generation. However, in the auditions, two women outshone everyone else and while waiting for a male actor to arrive for his audition, Jaco and myself asked the two women to read the parts, after which we agreed to cast these two in the roles.  This required a complete rewriting of the script, which I accomplished over a weekend, only to be informed on the Monday that one of the selected cast members had decided to go overseas!  I was now committed to the latest version of the script, however, and auditions were held for a second female.  Chantal Stanfield, who had graduated from UCT just a month earlier, was cast in this role of the arts journalist while Lindiwe Matshikiza was cast as the performance poet.

Supported by a grant from the Lottery as part of the State Theatre’s “52 seasons” programme, Mixed Metaphors premiered at the State Theatre and ran for 6 weeks.  Jaco Bouwer, an award-winning director better known in Afrikaans theatre circles, brought his technical, music, film-making, theatre and movement skills to bear on the production, making it into a multi-media spectacle.

Concerned by the increasing polarization within the country’s theatre community, I was delighted to be able to bring together such a diverse range of people to work on the production, to learn from each other, and also just to get to know each other.

Production Details

First production
State Theatre (Momentum Theatre), 16 February to 25 March 2006, produced by the State Theatre.
Director – Jaco Bouwer

Cast

Lindiwe Matshikiza as Lerato Mbuli and Chantal Stanfield as Cindy Petersen.

Seasons

  • State Theatre 16 Feb-25 March 2006
  • ARTSCAPE Arena Theatre 25 April-6 May 2006
  • National Arts Festival, Grahamstown 1-7 July 2006
  • Gauteng Schools Festival 12-13 September 2006
  • Western Cape Schools Festival 28 February 2007

What the Critics Said

“Mike van Graan’s third dramatic exercise of democratic rights, Mixed Metaphors, refines the accomplishments of his Green Man Flashing and Hostile Takeover.  (It) is more comprehensive but also more precise in its application of forensic skills to examining the workings of history through individuals.”

– Robert Greig, Sunday Independent, 19 February 2006

“Director Jaco Bouwer seamlessly employs elements of kwaito, hip-hop, film and technology, such as the internet and cellphones, into a slick and funky production that captures the essence of this society.”

- Nadine Botha, Mail and Guardian, February 24-2 March

“…Mixed Metaphors…continues to explore (the writer’s) particular brand of politically engaged theatre whilst astonishing with his displays of versatility…the soundtrack was absolutely superb…” 

- Anton Krueger, Litnet, 4 April 2006

“This is where the playwright…is most powerful with his political punches as he strikes knockout blows in rhyme and rhythm…and he has the perfect performer in the charismatic Lindiwe Matshikiza….”

– Diane de Beer, Pretoria News, 21 Feb 2006

“Playwright Mike van Graan, on something of a roll with two plays running in Cape Town at the moment and another in Johannesburg, is arguably the prime agent provocateur in South African theatre.  His plays set the mind racing as in the current Some Mothers’ Sons with its searing irony, and now there is Mixed Metaphors with its kanniedood soul arising out of the bad old days of 1976 when The Struggle was reaching an awesome height.”

- Derek Wilson, Arts Editor, Argus Tonight 2 May 2006

Awards/recognition

  • Nominated: Best New South African Play Produced in 2006, Naledi Theatre Awards.
  • Lindiwe Matshikiza nominated for Best Performance by a Newcomer (Female), Naledi Theatre Awards, 2006.
  • Nominated: Best New Script in 2006, Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards.

Availability of script

The script is available in unpublished form.  There is an archival recording of the play at the State Theatre. For more information, please contact info@mikevangraan.co.za.

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