WHILE THE Galway Arts Festival may be taking most of the headlines these days, the Galway Fringe Festival is also doing itself proud with a programme bursting at the seams with music, exhibitions, theatre, and much more besides.
Among the featured theatre shows is one all the way from Malawi, via China, Italy, and Germany; the Dario Fo play The Tale Of A Tiger which runs at the Townhouse Bar for 10 performances next week, from 1pm to 2pm, commencing Sunday July 21.
The Tale Of A Tiger is a dramatic monologue which Italian author Dario Fo was inspired to write during a 1975 visit to China. The play’s roots are in a Chinese folk tale which carries an allegorical meaning - someone ‘has the tiger’ when they make a stand or take responsibility for themselves and do not expect others to solve their problems.
In the play, we find a citizen protester who is abandoned in the city zoo with a gangrenous leg and dying of thirst. He is suddenly swept up in a flash flood from which he escapes by hiding in the zoo’s cave. There he discovers, to his terror, that a tigress and her cub are the cave’s resident landlords.
Unable to escape and at death’s door, he is amazingly nursed to health by the tigress. As this surrogate family develops, tiger-human communication is born and while the man introduces the tigers to cooked meat, they in turn introduce him to the archetypal elements of their spirits. The man eventually comes out of the cave and combats the security forces with the tigers’ assistance.
In a ‘democratic dictatorship’
This Galway Fringe staging of the play is a co-production between Nanzikambe Arts of Malawi and Theatre Konstanz of Germany, directed by Thokozani Kapiri and performed by Geoffrey Mbene.
Thoko Kapiri is a talented and experienced director, actor and dancer whose career began in 1997. He made his acting debut for Nanzikambe Arts in A Garden Of Plenty at London’s Young Vic in 2003. In May 2005 he joined Nanzikambe as a writer and director and was appointed the company’s Creative Arts Manager early 2011.
“This is my second time in Ireland, I was here two years ago,” Kapiri tells me. “My first encounter with Irish theatre was when Fibin’s Brendan Murray came to Malawi to do a workshop organised by the Irish Embassy and then I came to Fibin in Galway with a small show called Tales Of A Migrant. At the time we were looking at the possibility of coming back here.
“For the past three years I have had a collaboration with Theatre Konstanz in Germany which made it easier to branch off and come here to Ireland. The connection with Theatre Konstanz came about through the Goethe Institut who had cultural funding in Malawi.”
Instead of placing the character of the monologue in the times of the Chinese Revolution as Fo did, Kapiri relocates the play’s action to the Malawian opposition protests in July 2011.
“We had already planned to do the play before the protests happened but when they started happening I saw immediately how true the themes of the play were to the situation in Malawi,” Kapiri explains.
“I call it a democratic dictatorship; we changed government but the rules are still oppressive. In Malawi you have to submit your script to the censorship board and they will cut parts they do not like which they did with ours, so it’s a closed and oppressive society. When we did the premiere there were landrovers and police outside the theatre.
“The allegory of the play is very strong. With the tiger spirit coming out of the cave, for me I was looking at how my own society behaved, the way we protest, and being submitted to oppression and fear. We wanted to get out there and make a voice.
“For Fo it was a metaphor of fighting 1960s fascism, for us it is very present and about the whole political establishment and I went for that interpretation. It’s not easy for us to get the play seen in Malawi but now we have an international platform to perform on which we appreciate so much as the news can get back to the papers at home.”
The play is performed by Geoffery Mbene. His performance is animated, mischievous and hypnotic, and he uses his set, light, and mime to great effect. His physical delivery and characterisation is a treat that combines insight and charm. He offers a high-energy performance, jumping and miming in front of the cave painting background of the set.
The German newspaper Suedkurier wrote: “Geoffrey Mbene acts with glowing vigour and trenchant body language...It is about no less than the courage of mankind to fight and protest against encroaching authorities.”
“This is our first show together,” Kapiri relates. “We don’t get many actors like Geoffrey. It’s a challenging piece as he is on his own onstage. He is a fantastic actor.”
The Tale Of A Tiger runs at the Townhouse Bar, Quay Lane, from Sunday July 21 to Thursday 25 at 1pm each day. Tickets are €10. See also www.galwayfringe.ie