Man Friday by Adrian Mitchell.The Acting Company at Tuggeranong Arts Centre, February 1 – 8, 1998.
The value of a festival, like the National Multicultural Festival, is having comparisons thrust upon you. Having in the afternoon seen Golden Future Faces, a youth theatre from South Africa whose energy and commitment is drawn directly from the real experience of oppression, Adrian Mitchell's rather superficial, though politically correct, play appears no more than a mild philosophical argy-bargy. Written in the 1960's, even though during real race riots in Britain, Mitchell's less than wordly idealism shines through.
Alexander Selkirk, the real shipwrecked sailor who was Defoe's model for Robinson Crusoe, apparently had no companion through all the years isolated on his island. Defoe invented Man Friday to give his story some extra life. Unfortunately Adrian Mitchell's Friday is so much the noble enlightened quick-witted indigene, and his Crusoe so much the guilt ridden Christian imperialist capitalist racist, that the actors Adam McConvell and Phil Roberts, and director Estelle Muspratt, must be praised for keeping the piece moving for nearly an hour and a half.
In the end the question becomes clear: should Friday's people do the right thing and accept Crusoe, or is the risk of cultural pollution even from this one source so great that Crusoe must be sent back to his island, to live alone forever. But in getting to this point, Friday is so mellifluous and Crusoe so harsh that McConvell gets all our sympathy and Roberts has no choice but to rant loudly and often.
As an issues play for young people, there is value in seeing this production. The set, lighting and sound are all competently handled, extracting as much mood as the piece will allow, but in the end the script simply hasn't got the depth of humanity in the characters which the issue of racism deserves. The young South Africans showed the difference in their presentation, Ubuntu - all people together. Nothing is just black or white, accept or reject. In the real world there is no island where we can leave Crusoe safely in isolation.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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