LitNet | STAND: Theatre review workshop 2023 mentor feedback | Kwanele Nyembe’s review of Around the fire

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This mentor feedback is part of the LitNet | STAND theatre review workshop. The ten participants each submit a review to the workshop mentors for feedback. The participants will then be able to edit their submissions, receive additional feedback from the mentors and finalise their reviews.
This is the first feedback on version 1 of Kwanele Nyembe’s review.

Feedback from Tracy Saunders

This is a review of a play staged several years ago, and given the subject, context matters. The impetus for Jonas’s work is relevant to the production, and it is a pity that the broader reality in which the play is presented is not given more substance in the review. Kwanele’s interview with Siphokazi does give an added texture to the review and refers to “what was happening in the country at the time”, but we are not given any detail about what that “something” is. It is not clear in the review whether Jonas herself portrays all the characters, or how the other members of the cast who remain unnamed, are cast. They are referred to as “extras with minimal lines”. The music and soundscape play an important role in this work, but aside from a mention of the djembe drum, we are given scant information about the creative team responsible for the sound design and performance. The supposition that this is a reimagining of Ntozake Shange’s For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf is an interesting one, and I would have liked to read some more detail about that. Kwanele’s description of the religious scene amplified by an abundance of burning candles is vividly depicted in the review and conveys a strong visual image. There is less sense of the feeling and emotions which the piece evokes. This may be a function of the very subject matter which it addresses, in which case it would be interesting to read the reviewer’s feeling on grappling with the topic. The review presents a succinct summation of the play and its themes and is very concise in its conclusion. With some editing and more information highlighting the creative roles in the performance, this review has potential.

Feedback from Nkgopoleng Moloi 

Nyembe’s review is a competent piece of writing, with several strong points but some blind spots as well.

The text begins very strongly with a good paragraph that clarifies the basic information of the production – from the outset, the reader knows which production is being reviewed, where it was staged, whether it had been staged before, as well as who made it. Such simple facts are crucial in understanding how the work is read and scrutinised.

The final paragraph contains components that are critical in considering a production – cast, music, set design, etc. These elements should be brought further up and be considered more rigorously for proper investigation, as opposed to being placed at the end, where they read as a summary or an afterthought.

It is easy to fall into the trap of reporting back on the storyline of a production instead of analysing it. Paragraphs three and four, for instance, offer some important conceptual and narrative facts; however, these are not explicated. Once a reader has grasped the basic plot, it is crucial to move on to the next step, which is a reflection by the reviewer on how the plot was delivered or brought to life. This can also include a reading of audience reception, particularly with subject matter that is quite topical and may be part of the current discourse. The reviewer should always remember that the work is being judged as a creative output; as alluring, interesting or important as the subject matter may be, the theatre production should still be considered according to the merit of the work.

A small note is to pay attention to how best to communicate ideas most simply and clearly. Clarity can be achieved by untangling long sentences as much as possible. For instance, I was privileged enough to be granted the opportunity to ask can simply be I had the privilege to interview. These small yet mindful adjustments go a long way in making the text tight and readable. This principle also applies to direct quotations – direct quotes should be chosen carefully and used only to add weight or significance to the text. The interview should be used as an important part of the process of understanding the work, without the feeling of needing to reference it directly. That being said, adding the voice of the interviewee to the text can ground the review when done well.

In every review, attention to detail is important – by adding small pieces of relevant information in the right places, the reviewer can paint a clear picture of the work for the reader. This is particularly important here, as theatre is a visual and auditory medium. For instance, instead of just mentioning that Jonas was supported by a cast, the reader needs more information to allow them to imagine how Jonas was “supported by the cast” – how many people? What are their costumes? How were they positioned? What were they doing? And, of course, to tie it all together, it is important for the reviewer to reflect on how these choices impacted the production.

Every review is written within the context of its contemporary moment. For a work such as this, with themes of vulnerability, shame and violence against women, it is important to use care in the choice of language used. The reviewer should consider the norms of how language circulates in public conversations around these themes, as it can be very particular. This might require further research to be able to discern the context with more nuance. For instance, using the phrase victimised women versus women who have survived abuse offers different textures and will influence how the text is received and understood. Again, with language, it is best to use more descriptive and direct adjectives to give the viewer a clearer sense of what is meant – although it may be true that the production was “beautifully crafted”, this phrase is hollow, as “beautiful” in this context is very broad and doesn’t give the reader insight into what is exactly meant.

Overall, the review is an interesting read, but could be made more compelling by focusing on a critical analysis of the various elements already mentioned.

Also read:

LitNet | STAND: Theatre review of Around the fire (version 1)

LitNet | STAND: Teaterresensieslypskool 2023 | Theatre review workshop 2023

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