The Children’s Monologues is a spoken-word performance piece of soliloquies and testimonies of South African children about their country, performed by some of the biggest names in international film and television. The show had its New York debut on 13 November 2017.
The show, first performed at London’s Old Vic theatre in 2010, features a host of Hollywood and British acting royalty performing the monologues. Previous performances featured stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman.
For the New York show, held at the famous Carnegie Hall, performers included Anne Hathaway, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Trevor Noah. The once-off show, a benefit for Dramatic Need, an international NGO that develops the arts across Africa, was directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire).
The New York show also featured South African music and dance, including the international debut performance by South African pantsula dance troupe Via Vyndal.
A production of the show was also performed in tandem in South Africa on the same day. Acclaimed local theatre director James Ngcobo presented the South African performance with an all-female cast of top South African actresses, including Pearl Thusi, Fiona Ramsay and Lesedi Job, at Johannesburg’s famous Market Theatre.
The monologues were written by South African children about their experiences of living in the country. The stories are both harrowing and joyful: ranging from cherished moments of youthful exuberance to indelible accounts of young people’s struggle against violent crime and detached patriarchy. The monologues are comic and tragic, real and imagined, poignant and traumatic.
“The monologues are a vehicle for audiences and actors to connect with the children and to almost see inside the children’s hearts and provide a voice of assurance that their future is not bleak and that their circumstances do not define who they are,” Ngcobo said in the run-up to the performance.
Critics reviewing the New York show were impressed. Roger Friedman from Hollywood 411 wrote that it was “a five-star night that beautifully captured the spirit of South Africa [and its people]”. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a powerfully emotional presentation”. A particular highlight for the Carnegie Hall audience was the energy of Via Vyndal.
The New York performance was the first time the troupe, from Alexandra in Johannesburg, travelled overseas.
They were personally selected by Boyle following auditions across South Africa earlier this year. Boyle said he wanted a group that exemplified the spirit of South African youth culture and he felt the Vyndals possessed an authenticity that could not be recreated, in the same way Indian street performers in his award-winning hit film, Slumdog Millionaire, had done.
Via Vyndal artistic director Sicelo Xaba told TimesLive that the group were proud to represent South Africa in New York. “This is not just important for the guys going; it’s also important for pantsula as a culture and a dance form.”
Lead dancer Sandile Ngqulunga hoped that the international exposure would show global and local audiences that pantsula was a positive, nation-building art form, as well as lead to more opportunities for South African dance troupes at home and abroad.
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