John Kani’s MISSING: A Review

Thankfully not a Neeson-type thriller (we became nervous each time someone stepped out for a ‘walk’), the title of Kani’s Missing…refers to being missing in action in South Africa’s new democracy – an examination of exiled struggle heroes who fail to be called back by the new dispensation.

Danford, Kani, Ngaba and Ntshoko - cast of 'Missing...'

Danford, Kani, Ngaba and Ntshoko – cast of ‘Missing…’

Having been kindly invited by the Baxter Theatre as high school English educators, my friend and I, with our husbands, escaped the end-of-term marking frenzy and ventured out, despite having almost succumbed to the thrill of an early night in. We’re glad we did. The theatre was emptier than expected, even for a Wednesday night, with less than half of its seats occupied; the crowd diverse and appreciative.

Kani’s first since Nothing But the Truth (2002), Missing… by the veteran actor and playwright has moved from previous themes of struggle to question the fates of exiled ANC members who find themselves still in exile after living through it believing that they would one day fulfil a vital role in South Africa’s democracy. Having once asked Mbeki, a personal friend, whether it was possible that struggle heroes in exile had been ‘missed’, Mbeki had replied that it was indeed possible.

Protagonist of the play, Kani’s character Robert Vuyo Khalipa, lives a comfortable life in Sweden at the end of the 20th century with his rich and loving Swedish business icon of a wife, Anna Ohlson (Susan Danford), and Swedish-African daughter Ayanda (played by Buhle Ngaba). He seems to have everything – except to have realised his post-apartheid ideals of ‘home’ – a central thread through the play. Every day since Mandela’s release Khalipa has waited for the call that would take him home – back to a cabinet position where he would be recognised for years of sacrifice and have a part in building the rainbow nation. When Mbeki becomes president, his sense of hope is renewed and the agony of his waiting intensified. The absence of the phone’s shrill tone becomes an unwelcome presence, with the family little realising that a call, if it came, would threaten their happiness further.

Although predominately a tautly written script it perhaps needs further editing. At times it tends to preach, or to state too explicitly the emotions of the characters which tends to rob them of spontaneous feeling. Also, although Kani seems to become Khalipa entirely and Danford’s Swedish accent is, to the South African ear, utterly convincing, one can’t help but feel that the roles of Peter Tshabalala and Ayanda Khalipa are at times over-acted – as if Apollo Ntshoko and Buhle Ngaba are trying too hard to enunciate their words and gestures to an audience hard of hearing. However, as the play premières its first few weeks in the Cape, one must bear in mind that Kani has recently suffered from a debilitating back injury, cutting down on crucial rehearsal time and forcing the postponement of the play’s opening. 

Gut-achingly funny and at times awkwardly tense, the play uses broad South African themes of intercultural romance and offspring, expectations of the role of wife, friendship, betrayal and post-apartheid corruption and disillusionment to achieve a range of emotions in the audience.

Missing… runs in Cape Town until the 29th March. Book at Computicket.

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