Sello Maake Ka-Ncube
Entering the Maria, the Young Vic’s intimate studio space, for Debbie Tucker Green’s new play was like being completely transported into another time and country, it was as though we’d gate-cashed some wonderful African celebration.
Conventional seating had been replaced by upturned crates, randomly situated around the stage on a floor of red sand. The stage itself had been transformed into a kitchen, with stew and pounded yams being cooked on the stove. A choir sang African songs, adding to the authentic atmosphere.
Generations is a snapshot of everyday life in South Africa that focuses on family life, yet also touches on the darker issue of Aids. It begins with three generations of one family onstage, from teenage daughters to grandparents. Tucker Green loves to experiment with language and this short but striking drama felt as much like a poem as a play, with the dialogue repeated in different orders by different characters. The act of cooking is equally important, and Tucker green uses the making of a meal to demonstrate the way family stories get passed down through generations.
As the play progresses and the family scene disintegrates, the opening mood of celebration slowly shifts and a darker tone reveals itself, turning the play into something more of a lamentation. The issue of AIDS is never directly addressed but its shadow colours everything in these scenes. The sense of absence felt as each generation leaves the stage is palpable, and after each departure, the choir sings their grief-filled song. Tucker Green’s writing never sinks into sentiment or bubbles into polemic, instead she displays a masterful subtlety and a real power throughout.
Director Sacha Wares’ staging adds a touching simplicity to proceedings and the random scattering of the audience around the space works well, proving a real sense of intimacy and camaraderie. Watching other peoples’ expressions and reactions to the play became part of the experience. The actors and singers were interspersed between us and you’d have to swivel around to see who was singing and who was dancing, who was acting and who was speaking, which created an even stronger connection between the audience and the performers.
Generations is a beautiful, if disturbing portrayal of South Africa and its culture. The acting was natural and touching, the play was inventively structured. This is everything that theatre should be, interactive, sensuous, and capable of taking us out of our present reality and making us a part of an entirely different world. This production is a short one, running for only 30 minutes, but it will definitely stay with you for much, much longer.