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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Nothing But The Truth
Hampstead Theatre   February 2007

The British Premiere of writer-actor John Kani's 2003 play reintroduces us to one of the great voices of South African theatre, in a work whose minor imperfections are overpowered by its irresistible warmth and humanity.

A black South African in his sixties is faced with burying the brother who lived in British exile for twenty years. The event, along with the natural curiosity the two men's daughters have about the family past, reawakens painful memories of personal tragedies, betrayals and resentments. But for life to go on, those things that can be forgiven must be forgiven, and those that cannot must be lived with.

That this personal story is also a metaphor for South Africa in the age of reconciliation is hardly disguised, and indeed one of the small flaws in the work is the occasional awkwardness with which conversations move back and forth between the intimate and the political.

But the point being made on both levels - that the past will remain a painful legacy that must somehow be absorbed and built upon - is strong, and Kani's presentation of it never less than fully involving and moving.

As its title suggests, the play is built on a string of revelations about both the personal and national pasts, in some cases exposing secrets, in others correcting partial truths or family myths that had been allowed to linger on. Another of the play's small weaknesses is that virtually every one of these is telegraphed long in advance, leaving few real surprises for the audience.

But shock is not the point - the characters' responses to the revelations are Kani's concern, and the reassurance that painful truths can be coped with.

Strong support is provided by Rosie Motene and Motshabi Tyelele as the cousins, but the evening belongs to John Kani as actor. Creating a man of dignity and strength without turning him into a plaster saint, Kani brings his undeniable personal presence to a rich, warm and fully human characterisation.

John Kani, co-creator of the South African classics Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island and now sole author of Nothing But The Truth, is a world treasure. An evening spent in his presence is an honour.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Nothing But the Truth - Hampstead 2007