Review: Marine grief poignantly and lyrically evoked in Empatheatre’s Lalela uLwandle- listen to the sea

Lalela ulwandle – – listen to the sea- Western Cape Tour – Sep-Oct 2022

ABOUT: Interactive immersive theatre and public storytelling experience, led by the Empatheatre Collective

WHERE: Magnet Theatre, Lower Main Road, Observatory  
WHEN: September 27, 28, 30 at 7pm; October 1 at 7pm  
ADMISSION: No charge – free  
Director: Neil Coppen
Actors: Alison Cassels, Mpume Mthombeni and Rory Booth

Scroll down for other production credits – in box- below

Last night, September 28, 2022, I attended a performance of Lalela ulwandle – listen to the sea – at Magnet Theatre in Cape Town. Lalela ulwandle goes beyond ‘performance’. It is an experience- an immersion in the ocean – listening to stories – imploring us to treasure our marine heritage – before it is too late. Lalela ulwandle is led by Empatheatre and directed by Neil Coppen. It is an extraordinary visceral engagement in ocean grief. Marine heritage tends to pop up, bundled under ‘climate change’ and tends to sideline people who have a history with the ocean – cultural and ancestral –on many other levels. The marine landscape is intensely personal and political. We need to listen with care and reflection: Policy making, court cases, legislation. In the after-show chat, as we sat in a circle on the stage at Magnet Theatre (there is also raked seating in the theatre), a person in the audience remarked: “What happened tonight is not a performance. It is not a piece of art. For me, it is testimony.” Ocean Grief was raised. Think about that. The sea is calling and are we listening? There is a lot to process in this piece and it is beautifully conveyed through three story tellers – an isiZulu marine educator with an ancestral heritage in Zulu spirituality (Mpume Mtombeni), Faye – a white retired marine scientist and recent widow (Alison Cassels) and a young South Durban social and environmental activist, and descendant of a long line of Durban Indian fisher folk (Rory Booth). They are Durban based actors.

The production is led by Dylan McGarry and Taryn Pereira at the Environmental Learning Research Centre, Rhodes University, in close collaboration with Kira Erwin at the Urban Futures Centre, Durban University of Technology and forms part of the One Ocean Hub “a global action research network led by Strathclyde University, and funded by the UKRI Global Challenge Research Fund.” In the after-show conversation, in response to points raised by a person in the audience, Kira Erwin said that yes, “science is important, yes, economics is important” and so is “the social, cultural and spiritual”. How do we “expand” everything around the ocean, climate change to include “all this”? Not easy. Circling back to the ‘testimony’- testimony is about bearing witness, accounting what is here now and looking back so we can go forward and be accountable.

Lalela ulwandle has toured the country and now it has landed in the Western Cape, at Magnet Theatre for a very short run. This is a quickie ‘review’. There is a lot say but I will keep it brief. The after-show dialogue and research (the audience is asked to provide feedback on forms) is integral to the performative aspect as the audience becomes part of the body of the show.

Lalela ulwandle has been created out testimony, research and oral history. It is the oral history which comes across profoundly in this poignant piece – memory, identity, longing. Grief is edged by a beautiful lyricism- by the storytellers as they tell their stories and pull us into the circle of the ocean- with a wonderous centre piece of a knitted/crocheted coral reef and beautifully crafted props (huts, fish mobiles), striking lighting design and soundscape. Lalela ulwandle is poignant and lyrical theatre: Marine activism; vividly nuanced, interlacing complex strands – spiritual, cultural, emotional, personal, communal; social; political; the intricacies of human geography, land, sea.

Coral reef: The knitted/crocheted coral reef in Lalela ulwandle – listen to the sea- September 28, 2022, Magnet Theatre, Cape Town.
Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
Communing around the circle of the sea. Audience on its feet, in appreciation and gratitude, after witnessing Lalela ulwandle – listen to the sea- September 28, 2022, Magnet Theatre, Cape Town.
Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.
Lalela ulwandle – listen to the sea- Western Cape Tour – Sep-Oct 2022

Director: Neil Coppen   
Written: Neil Coppen, with contributions from Helen Walne, Gcina Mhlophe, Mpume Mthombeni, Dylan McGarry, Taryn Pereira, Kira Erwin
Producer: Dylan McGarry   
Research: Kira Erwin, Taryn Pereira, Dylan McGarry, Mpume Mthombeni, Nomkhosi Xulu-Gama, Tanya Dayaram    
Facilitators: Kira Erwin, Dylan McGarry, Taryn Pereira, Buhle Francis, Nosiseko Mtati   
Actors: Alison Cassels, Mpume Mthombeni and Rory Booth
Design: Dylan McGarry and Neil Coppen
Costumes: Dylan McGarry and Diane Badenhorst
Stage and sound manager: Kelly Daniels  
Production manager: Tamlynn Fleetwood
Sound design: Tristan Horton   
Score: Guy Buttery and Gary Thomas    

Lalela ulwandle – listen to the sea- September 28, 2022, Magnet Theatre, Cape Town. Pic © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.