Tin Bucket Drum
By Neil Coppen; Directed by Karen Logan
Produced by Horse Trade Theatre Group and The Imbewu Trust
Mpume Mthombeni in TIN BUCKET DRUM. Photo by Val Adamson.
BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful and creative African storytelling, in its simplest and most captivating form.
There’s something alluring about a person who can tell a good story. By changing a facial expression, a tone of voice, or astutely varying the use of a conventional prop, they can evoke myriad characters each with their own personality, gender and empathetic draw. And while we no longer have troubadours, storytelling is still very much a part of our modern lives, be it through theatres or novels, or that friend who can tell even the most conventional scenes in a compelling way. And it’s a frugal medium, you don’t need much if you can do it well, not even an education.
Tin Bucket Drum is a piece brought to us from South Africa by The Imbewu Trust and Horse Trade Theatre Group. Its solo actress Mpume Mthombeni is precisely one of those people with an incredible gift for storytelling. She certainly doesn’t need elaborate costumes, million dollar explosions or multi-actor ensembles to perform her art, and it’s precisely the simplicity of this piece, and her infectious energy, that makes the story and delivery of Tin Bucket Drum so captivating.
Mthombeni -- accompanied by a table, a hat, and a bucket -- delivers the story of a child born into an African tin mining village, willed to silence by an oppressive regime who has ruled that any display of rhythm or sound be brutally punished. But by deeming their dances and songs unlawful, the dictator has precisely removed the very soul of the people of the village, that which made them human (hmm, this sounds a lot like an allegory to me). And so, with the arrival of silence, the rains exit and not a drop falls on the village. But don’t despair, as with most moralizing stories, this is a tale of hope where good will prevail.
Mthombeni really represents storytelling at its best. She gracefully and convincingly switches characters, from the confused child whose loud beating heart defies the village silence, to the ruthless and scary dictator who rules in fear. She is joined on stage by a live percussionist, Wake Mahlobo, who discretely accompanies her every move with sound, while not drawing any attention away from the main performer. The technical production is also simple but immaculate; lights change and shadows are cast in a way that perfectly frame the story's changes and twists. While the piece is composed of simple and clearly defined elements, they are integrated in such a seamless and natural way that the whole is by far greater than the individual parts. And as such, it’s actually hard to do the piece justice by describing the elements that when interweaved make it so brilliant.
While Tin Bucket Drum won’t exactly substitute what it must be like to be a young South African crowding around the village elder to hear their timeless moral stories, you’ll find the happenings on the small stage of the Kraine Theatre a worthy surrogate -- your imagination can do the rest. So head down to the East Village for some traditional storytelling, but do so fast, since it’s only in town until August 4th.
(Tin Bucket Drum plays at the The Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street, through August 4, 2012. Performances are. Performances are daily at 7:30PM. Tickets are $18 or $15 for students and seniors and are available online at www.horseTRADE.info or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444. For more show info visit www.horseTRADE.info.)