When the personal is blended with the political in theatre, the outcome is likely to stir the audience with myriad reflections on the unjustness of life. This was indeed the case with Forgotten Voices written by David Moorhead, directed by Margaret Connell and performed by Shareesa Valentine at Canal Cafe Theatre, quite befittingly, as part of the Black History Month celebration. Simple but not simplistic, the play is ambitiously written, encompassing multiple complex layers of Moorhead’s grandmother Eva Moorhead Kadalie’s biographical episodes and running parallel, the South African history of apartheid. Thus, the play skilfully serves the dual purpose of narrating the story of a strong, affective, and resilient woman and educating the audience on the ethos of the times and life of South Africa around the 1920s and 30s.
Capturing the mood of the times, the audience settles into the ambience of African gospel music. Set at the brink of her departure to England in 1956, Eva, directly addressing the city of Durban from the deck of a ship, begins the episodic narrative that has led her to this point. Born as a child of mixed race to a white father who rejected her, struggling with her brother George to find a sense of belonging in neither communities, she occasionally humorously reflects on the meaningless importance given to skin colour. Marrying freedom fighter Clements Kadalie, the first national black trade union leader, she actively participates in fighting for the freedom of her people. However, her sacrifices and struggles had been forgotten under the shadow of her husband’s contribution to the cause. The play not only portrays the struggles against colonial oppression but also women whose voices were conveniently forgotten. Eva, though her narrative gives tribute to those myriad women who must have raised a fistful arm and a powerful voice against white supremacy but could not make it to the pages of history. The title, in that sense, does much justice to the spirit of the play as Eva represents the forgotten “voices”.
Moorhead’s writing is clear, powerful, and affective, which is successfully complemented by Valentine’s rendition of his grandmother. Written in the form of episodes, the narrative style supported the context of the play. Valentine’s performance was compelling; she managed to engage the audience through a wide-ranging narrative with a measured and assured delivery. Connell effectively brought the pain and struggle as well as the playful spirit and glamour of Eva. However, the graph of Eva’s transition through her youth seemed to be slightly flat. The simple scenography effectively supported the context and writing.
A powerful performance and an important story, it moved me and reminded me of the little and large contributions of thousands of faceless, voiceless people in any struggle for freedom.
Reviewer: Khushboo Shah
Reviewed: 15th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★