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Thursday, September 17, 2009


(Pic by Val Adamson: Vishendra Singh, Paul van Wyk, Sifiso Ndlovu, Pieter de Beer, Siphosenkosi Myeni, Menzi Mkhwane, & Thobani Mbhele)

First joint performance project of DUT and UKZN drama departments presents thought-provoking and multi-layered look at global war and conflict.

FrontLines is the first collaboration between the drama departments of the Durban University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Jointly devised and directed by Tanya van der Walt, (DUT) and Tamar Meskin (UKZN), it aims to creatively explore aspects of global war and conflict, particularly from a personal viewpoint.

The set by Stephen Woodroffe and Rogers Ganesan is effective, offering space for screened images of old wartime posters and photographs – many of which display the horrific devastation of war both from human and environmental aspects. I was impressed by the imagery of railway lines used as flying panels. The action and the set is well-complemented by Wesley Maherry and Julian August’s lighting design while Rowin Munsamy has created some good choreographic sequences.

This is very much an ensemble piece, effectively using the talents of the combined cast. The individual stand-outs – and there are many - who present some very fine vignettes are unfortunately too numerous to mention. The cast is disciplined and focused and their respect for the material they are performing is evident. I do have to say that the group singing is often more enthusiastic than tuneful!

FrontLines includes well-researched private letters, photographs, reflections, anecdotes, narratives, songs and stories some of which has been written and composed by the cast. From an academic and educational point of view, it’s an impressive and challenging multi-layered piece. From a theatrical one, it unfortunately makes for performance overload.

It’s like visiting the massive Louvre Museum in Paris for the first time– you wander around taking in so many superb and historic paintings that your senses start to lose their edge after a while. A guide – akin in a theatrical sense to a strong, linking journey – would concentrate on a specific era or style of artist, moving you efficiently on that journey as he or she focuses on strong salient points and highlights subtle aspects.

It must have been a severely daunting – and surely an emotional and often harrowing – task for the directors to look at global conflict over the last 100 or so years. This includes two World Wars, Vietnam, the SADF, genocide, terrorism, the holocaust, xenophobia, Iraq, 9/11 and the recent conflicts throughout Africa. Now that they have more than done justice to their original concept, I believe that FrontLines now requires a “guide” – a clear and surgical dissection and possible regrouping process so that a clear theme or “journey” emerges while maintaining the heart and soul of the production.

At present, the logical “journey” is month by month rather than in chronological date order. This means that, along with the differing musical styles of the times, the audience is taken from the bombing of Dresden in 1945 and the Fall of Saigon in 1975 (April) to Gallipoli in 1915 (May) to Soweto 1976 and Tiananmen Square 1989 (June) and so on.

There is enough material here for two productions – a two-acter including the song and dance sections and a one-acter focusing on the letters, some of which are achingly beautiful and offer a “real” viewpoint on how war impacts on the individual - whether mother, son, husband, wife or hospital matron.

There is no doubt that FrontLines resonates with passion, pathos and a clear message against the devastating results of war. It also trumpets the question: does war really achieve anything? To quote one of the letters: “They talk about the glory of war. There’s no glory. It’s hellish.”

FrontLines runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 20. Tickets at the door or bookings through Claudette Wagner on 031 260 3133, fax 031 260 1410 or email: – Caroline Smart