The play ‘Silent Voices’ is nothing if not provocative; from the opening monologue given by the protagonist ‘Mother’ who attacks the government on a full scale for their reconciliatory programs and puffed up-negotiations, to the last breaths of a song exuded by the entire cast on the stage that pauses the question, “What about us?” Having made its Ugandan debut on 21st July 2012 at the National theatre, the play has up to 4th August 2012 to bring to the surface all the murky realities of the Northern war.
The play revolves around the character ‘Mother,’ an embittered old woman whose entire existence is no more than a shadow of the horrors of the Northern war. Overwhelmed by the memories of betrayal from the so-called liberators and haunted by the unhealed wounds of life among the rebels as a victim and further on as a rebel wife, she runs on raw fumes of hate and vengeance which turn her into an unrepentant murderer.
The play finds a way to dismember the past from the present without entirely separating them. Holding the government to task is one of the most profound attributes of the play. Demanding that the liberators who once arrived in army apparel with promises of heaven that turned into mass scale murders and sexual violence against both men and women be held accountable for the atrocities they committed instead of being rewarded with big cars and big money. ‘Mother’ often repeats
“The sun sneaked in, all sounding musical” “The sun sneaked in with all its promises.”
The brave thing which Adong Lucy Judith the playwright managed to not so subtlety shove into the play, was the genius yet disturbing mingle of innocence and brutality. She did this with the characters of the children in and out of the war. The flash-forward and flashback techniques drove us to a reality where brothers were made to kill their own sisters. Where, a commander-man or teacher-man depending on whatever mood the rebel leader walked in with, would subject small children to the erratic psychotic muttering of his delusional mind and then demand love from them. The play would then hurl us into the present where children had the luxury to innocently jest with each other unaware that the ogre of hate still roamed the streets.
The ironical instances of humor in the play found a way to rescue the audience from complete submergence in the dreariness of the themes without making light of the situation. Tuwangye Richard who played the husband did well in softening several blows. And Clark Jabel of Taibah International School who acted as the commander man was both the tormentor and strangely enough, the most magnetic character to watch.
The criticism which the play lavishly extends doesn’t just stop within the South Sudan and Northern Uganda boarders; it extends to the international perceptions as well. It cleverly depicts a newsman enthusiastically covering peace negotiations and following everyone but the victims themselves; undoubtedly, a harsh scolding of international hovering after the end of the war.
If I had a nickel for every time, ‘Mother’s’ performance made me want to leap up and clap, I would have more than a few coins. Played by Kemiyondo Countinho, she was a force on the stage. The loud colours of anger, joy, frustration, disappointment that burst out of her voice painted an infinite picture for us. So every time she rested on the sidelines on the shoulder of the ‘Nanga’ instrumentalist Abonga Christopher, (whose sweet sorrowful music was all the soundtrack needed for the play by the way) it felt as though all the raging waves of the play were at a calm.
The richness of the Acholi culture as glorified through the dance and instruments accessorized the flesh of the play. Memories were given visual effect with the vibrant fervor of skilful dancers in both creative and traditional dances like Larakaraka and Dingi dingi.
There are many themes that call for special attention, and each are handled with the appropriate delicacy owed to them. However, the playwright finds a way to elevate both love and hate simultaneously. Showcasing the confusion those who live in both extremes suffer. The mother character is so forlorn with hate that her eyes are too misty to see that there is a generation untouched by the flames of the past. We are thrust into her memories of joyful youth, her heaven so to speak and then almost immediately yanked out of it into reality where she is a desecrated being. Her persona is a far cry from the blissful ignorance of the children who skip rope in the streets, or the rehabilitation center teacher Margaret who is so overrun with love that she has no room for hate.
In the end, we are left with answers to questions we didn’t even know we had asked.