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random/generations - a double bill

debbie tucker green
Chichester Festival Theatre
Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Petra Letang Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Company Credit: Manuel Harlan
The South African Cultural Choir Credit: Manuel Harlan

Two short plays, not much over an hour and a half together, but the impression they make lasts for a very long time after you have left the theatre.

The first play, generations, takes place on a raised stage where a black South African family are in their kitchen and preparing a meal which, incidentally, is actually cooked before us, the aroma drifting around the audience as grandmother Nana grinds spices and adds them to the pot.

The kitchen is always the heart of the home, where a family will gather, and this family encompasses three generations, a young couple setting up home together, the girl’s parents and the grandparents. The conversation, and arguments, are mostly about cooking, who can cook and who actually taught who to cook and I have to confess that I had no idea what was the theme of the play.

The talk and arguments are much as they are in every family but the dialogue is repeated over and over, sometimes with a different emphasis, as gradually, and silently, the younger ones depart leaving only the grandparents. Is this play about memory loss, dementia, the tragedy of AIDS in Africa or simply the sorrow and regret of the loss and the memories which linger on? I still don’t know but while it is strangely gripping it is also confusing and I believe you have to supply your own answers.

The whole is underpinned and enhanced by the amazing, superb South African Cultural Choir who actually began just before the performance was due to start and their music and the applause and cheering of those already seated had the lingerers rushing to find their own seats.

The choir sings of death and sorrow as many names appear on the backdrop, yet the tone is still uplifting as if through sorrow we can still find enlightenment. The music and voices are truly exceptionally beautiful together with the rhythms and dancing.

debbie tucker green seems to dislike capital letters, yet I believe she is very particular about grammar and punctuation. Every comma, exclamation mark and series of dots is an essential element in the script and, under the expert discerning direction of Tinuke Craig, the pace and tone of each play is timed and performed to perfection.

I might have been confused about generations but there’s no mistaking the intention of random, the play which follows the interval. This is another family, although we only see one young girl on a bare stage with a small alarm clock and a discarded duvet as the only props.

In a spectacularly brilliant performance, Petra Letang takes us through her day, bringing every other character in the story to vivid, and often very funny, life. Mother cooks breakfast, disapproves of the girl's choice of clothes, father keeps order “the kind of Dad where an eyebrow can make you nervous”, and brother’s bedroom is not to be entered without a gas mask. An ordinary family living an ordinary everyday life and with the motto “never trouble trouble 'til trouble trouble you”.

When trouble hits, it hits hard and is blisteringly and realistically described. With not a word wasted, the writing gets right to the heart of this family and we are feeling the heartbreaking pain and loss with them when the young brother, in a meaningless random stabbing, is suddenly snatched from them, his mutilated body left in the street.

A towering performance taking the audience from comedy and normality to deep, raw, heartrending emotion in around 35 minutes. The standing ovation was instantaneous, spontaneous and fully deserved.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor