Tag Archives: Fio Production

Review: The Island at Oasis Cardiff by Gareth Ford-Elliott

The performance of The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona from Fio at Oasis Cardiff, a community centre for refugees and asylum seekers, was a beautiful way for anyone to get introduced to Fio.

It wasn’t a classic “theatre night”, but more a community evening that had a play at the end of it. There was food served originating from various different countries, the opportunity to have your photo taken and talk with other audience members and refugees from all over the world.

All this before Oasis World Choir, a choir of refugees, took to the stage to perform, inviting the audience to sing along. They performed a mix of pop songs and songs written by themselves. It was a real mix of cultures brought together by music and truly was a beautiful thing to witness. The general themes of the songs were about hope and unity.

As someone who grew up in a close-knit, music based community in West Ireland, it took me right back to that community feeling. But this was totally different, a group of people from all over the world, from various backgrounds.

Some of the music was brilliant. Some of it was a bunch of people having a sing-song, the choir and the audience which was fun. But there were some really beautiful individual performances from various members of the choir.

The Island from Fio

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Island follows two black prisoners, John and Winston, who rehearse and perform a theatrical version of the Greek myth of Antigone during their time on Robben Island in Apartheid South Africa. Based on a true story, the two prisoners use this play as a way to speak about the current state of affairs of their country. It is a story of brotherhood, jealousy, oppression and protest with an important message of equality at its heart.

The play, originally performed in 1973, has its issues. There is a lot of character building, but a lack of character motivation at times. Whilst there are moments of real importance, the energy of the play stagnates too often. The restrictions of censorship in Apartheid South Africa when this play was written is a reasons for this. Only touching on certain issues that couldn’t be explicitly spoken about in detail. Whereas for a modern audience, in full knowledge of the realities of apartheid, it maybe doesn’t hold the power it did in 1973.

That aside, it tells an important story of struggle against the state. A story that is as relevant around the world today as it was in 1973. You could tell similar stories about the prisons in the USA, Brazil, North Korea, Thailand and even in post-Mandela South Africa. And despite the lack of detail and skirting around the harshest of realities, when this production does suck you in, it is hard not to feel it.

Because of the possibility of telling this story anywhere in the current world, you have to question Fio’s choice to cover this time period. Why this piece? Why now? What is it saying that is new? The answer to that last question is, nothing. We are not getting anything new. If anything, this is a watered-down version of what happened.

However, it is important to learn from history. And Fio were not making this piece of theatre to say anything new. They were making it to speak about the past of South Africa and how we, as the UK, move forward with commonwealth nations considering the past we share. Fio are clear to state the UK’s complicity in South Africa’s apartheid period.

I must mention that it does feel wrong to criticise a script written in a state of censorship. If you’re familiar with Iranian film, an industry full of censorship, you will know how much allegory is relied on to criticise the state and how often details are left to interpretation. The Apple (1998), written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, takes the real life story of two young women locked up by their father, and combines that with the symbolism of an apple, a symbol of opportunity, temptation and “the fall of man”, to speak about sexism in the country.

Is it the pinnacle of filmmaking? No. But you don’t get screened at Cannes for nothing. And The Island didn’t win Tony Awards for its technical playwrighting. But more for what it meant at that time.

Less about Fio’s choice to stage it though, Abdul Shayek’s direction fluctuates as the play progresses. The parts that stand out in the script are expressed well in this production. Most of the play is handled with care and directed to good effect. But there are areas that stagnate, times where the energy drops and moments that seem to lack importance.

The design was the strongest aspect of this production. The set was simple, yet effective. Four metal poles holding up a caged ceiling. This set was utilised well by the actors and combined with sound and lighting design, works well together, particularly in dream-like sequences, to produce emotive design. In a space like the Oasis, effectively a sports hall, this is not an easy feat and they deserve credit.

Performances from Joe Shire and Wela Mbusi are both strong. Portraying a brotherly relationship that shows real love, yet also jealousy. The moments of intimacy are beautiful, however some moments of conflict early in the play seem forced. The movement from the performers at times is really strong, which movement director Andile Sotiya deserves credit for.

The Island from Fio split my opinion a great deal and I still can’t decide, in my opinion, whether Fio made the right choice in staging it. Aspects were brilliant, but other parts fell flat. On one hand telling stories about history is important. But on the other hand, was this the right play to put in front a 2018 audience in Wales? Especially viewing it on this night, sharing a room with refugees, I couldn’t help but want to hear their stories more than one I have heard a thousand times. Stories that affect the present. But then, what is the present if we ignore history?

Overall though, the piece was an enjoyable piece of theatre, both from a general spectators perspective and from a critics perspective. Plenty to talk about afterwards both artistically and politically. Not to mention, the event as a whole was really beautiful and made for a heart-warming evening full of hope.

The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
Presented by Fio at Oasis Cardiff on November 9th 2018
Director: Abdul Shayek
Winston: Wela Mbusi
John: Joe Shire
Movement Director: Andile Sotiya
Lighting Design: Ryan Joseph Stafford
Sound Design: Dan Lawrence
Design Consultant: Becky Davies
Stage Manager: Jeremy Barnaby
Executive Producer: Shane Nickels
Producer: Nicole May
Assistant Stage Manager: Cait Gerry
Assistant Director: Yuqun Fan
Assistant Producer: Jasmine Okai
Community Engagement Officer: Naz Syed
Audio Description Consultant: Alastair Sil
Caption Consultant & Creator: Ben Tinniswood

Review Swarm, Fio Productions by Ann Davies

The rendezvous was made; a meeting with others. The night was dark and dank as the drizzle stormed down on our gathering. Black Gothic gates barred our entrance to the large stone building. We waited patiently. We were all strangers, curious about what lay ahead. We didn’t know just what to expect.
At last, the clanking sounds came of the gates being opened; we were told to assemble in straight lines. It was almost as though we were awaiting some sort of detention duty. A loud cry went out as another person came scrambling out of the darkness crying “My child, please see to my child” as uniformed personnel rushed around, issuing orders for us to enter asking questions “Were you followed? How many? Are there any more?” “My wife, my child” were the only words that the man managed to utter within his sadness. Lost in explanation, a large door began to open to a warehouse type area; as one, we were herded into its vast inner sanctum.
Slowly, we became aware of our surroundings. We came under an incredible amount of scrutiny from a multitude of people, and saw children huddled together in one corner, as if afraid of our arrival. “We have a few supplies and blankets, please share the blankets” the voice on the speaker announced. Some people came forward as if on a welcoming bid, imploring details about the outside. The man and child were rushed to an enclosed area with a Red Cross embellished on it.
“For fear of disease” the voice continued “you will have to be examined. Your photograph will be taken, a detailed form will need to be completed; you will then be assigned a number “.
The air was stifling; people were talking wildly about their relatives and whether anyone of us knew anything about them. Hands were inspected and washed; we were each issued with toiletry samples. The siren shrieked shattering our thoughts, as the lights dimmed
“Get down and remain still!” the urgent command drilled.
We all lay prone on the hard floor using the blankets provided.
Repeated blows on the door followed as security personnel entered, they were looking for certain people, but received only a stony silence. A child cried out in pain “There is nothing we can do” a medic announced as the man walked aimlessly around.
Fear held us in its grasp. Notices on the wall were adorned with desperate messages; missing people cried out to be found. You could almost reach out and touch the growing mania of panic and distress of what we were all witnessing.
This was an experience that we had not only watched; we had participated in a human drama.
“You’ve got a swarm of people coming, seeking a better life” A play had been performed but we were also the actors, the performance may disappear but the crisis of the refugees would not go away. It was an experience driven by conflict, of painful human reality of what is actually happening. The play was called ‘The Swarm’; the company were the Fio Productions and it was staged at the Pop Factory, Porth.
It was not a tale of the unexpected. At its conclusion it was a diverse platform for the further discussion of ethical and political issues.
The truth hurts.