Review: Forgotten Voices at Hope Mill Theatre

Forgotten Voices is something special.

To listen to the story of somebody’s life experiences is already a privilege. For that story to be written by that person’s grandson, moreso. But when that story is important, powerful, heartfelt, beautifully written and acted, it’s a whole other level.

Written by David Moorhouse, directed by Margaret Connell, and brought to Hope Mill Theatre as part of October’s Black History month, Forgotten Voices is a one woman show inspired by the life of Eva Moorhead Kadalie, the widow of South Africa’s first national black trade union leader, Clements Kadalie – known as the father of black trade unionism and the man who shook South Africa.

The play covers the turbulent years from 1919 to 1956 in South Africa including the 1919 Cape Town Harbour strike, the creation and of the Industrial and Commercial Union and its swift rise to prominence, the 1927 passing of the Native Administration Act (making it illegal to criticise the whites) and the subsequent court case and the role of the media in silencing the black voice.

It’s 1956 and Eva is on board the boat ready to take her away from South Africa, and over to England for a new life.

The next 70 minutes are a self-reflection of the last three decades as Eva contemplates her lives already lived, and where the next chapter should take her.

The voices are the people who have come and gone, those who remain, the memories and the moments (those buried a little deeper than others) which have made Eva the woman stood before us on deck.

credit: Hope Mill Theatre

Passionately played by Manchester actress, Shareesa Valentine, Eva takes us through three decades; her childhood as a mixed race girl growing up in South Africa, the challenges this brought to her and her brother, the abandoment by her white Father, the deep love and and even deeper losses shared with husband Clements Kadalie, along with the deep pride and passion they had in their fight for freedom.

Not to mention Barbara…

credit: author’s own

Sharing a stage with only a pile of suitcases, lifebelt and bench, Shareesa commanded the space as she delivered an impassioned and energetic monologue with a spirited and charismatic performance which left us laughing, smiling, sorrowful and at times deathly silent as she took us through the life of a woman who was more than the sum of her parts (as moving as each part individually was).

And as Shareesa lived out those parts and a final hidden voice revealed Eva’s fate (lost 1974) and final journey back to South Africa in 2010 as her ashes were taken to the grave of her late husband Clements (lost 1951), I felt in that short space of time, in that wonderful little theatre, that I had just witnessed an incredible life flashing before my eyes and a consequential sense of loss. The standing ovation (no mean feat in our huddled sell-out seated space), told me I wasn’t alone.

To read more about Forgotten Voices, visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/forgotten-voices

More details can be found about Black History Month here.

I’ll leave with the speech that Eva she gave to workers when a factory went out on strike in 1947…

From the very beginning women have played an important part in the long struggle for freedom, right from the days of slavery where Negro women helped their men folk to break their chains of bondage. I would like to mention that most of these women were not of the intellectual class, but ordinary slaves.

I feel certain, that if I had space to do so, I would name hundreds of women doing  similar work which we are doing in different parts of the world. The names of the those women are scarcely known outside of the communities in which they live and labour, but the value of their services they have rendered is greater than can ever be fully measured or known. We had hard problems, it is true, but instead of despairing in the face of difficulties we should, as a race, thank God that we have a problem.

Eva Moorhead Kadalie

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