‘A voice I cannot silence’

Ralph Lawson as Alan Paton and Menzi Mkhwane as Sponono.

Hout Bay resident Ralph Lawson can be seen in his Naledi Award-winning role as Alan Paton in A Voice I Cannot Silence, at The Fugard Theatre, until Saturday June 25.

Lawson won the 2016 Naledi Theatre Award for Best Lead Performance in a Play by a male.

A Voice I Cannot Silence is written by Lawson and Greg Homan.

It is a moving and empathetic personal examination of life as portrayed through Alan Paton’s own words, stories, poems, and autobiographies.

It highlights the invaluable contribution made by the author of Cry, the Beloved Country who was, in the words of Douglas Livingstone, a “lighthouse in the South African twilight” during the dark decades leading up to the country’s constitutional democracy. Paton’s internationally recognised gifts of lyric verse, evocative prose, and vibrant story-telling are combined to create a richly dramatic portrait.

The play focuses on the various watersheds in the author’s life – his years as principal of Diepkloof Reformatory; his position as president of the Liberal Party; his indomitable belief in and daunting struggle for human rights; and the complexities of his personal relationships.

Lawson was surprised to win the Naledi award for his portrayal of Paton.

“It’s a very nice feeling and I didn’t think I was going to win. I was sitting at the back of the hall in the middle row so I had to trample on everyone’s toes and I ran in front. I was so out of breath I couldn’t say thank you properly” he said.

“If we could take(the production) internationally, that would be lovely. We are thinking of the possibilities of taking it to America because Paton had a great presence there. It was because of an American publisher that Cry, the Beloved Country was published at all. We hope to take the production to the UK too” said Lawson, who has become a familiar face to South Africans during his 40-year career as an actor, voice over artist and a director. His television shows include Madam and Eve and Fishy Fêshuns. He’s stage productions include Annie, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliette and Cinderella, which saw him win the Durban theatre award for best director.

“Acting is in my blood. It’s probably something that you are born with because I always wanted to do it. I couldn’t think of doing anything else,” said Lawson.

He is currently teaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal and is helping to start up a production company under the banner of the Play House Company in Durban next month, to help bridge the gap for young actors and provide a starting platform as jobs are few.

He has also directed students at the University of Stellenbosch. “I enjoy teaching. It’s very exciting to see new talent bloom and blossom,” he said.

“I think it’s wonderful to do both acting and directing. I think starting out as an actor and that I am an actor, has helped me out a lot as a director as I am able to understand the actors better,” said Lawson.

The creative team for A Voice I Cannot Silence include direction by Homann (Brothers in Blood; Delirium) and cast of Clare Mortimer as secretary Anne Hopkins and Menzi Mkhwane as the young man, Sponono.

The show was nominated for no less than eight Naledi Theatre Awards this year.

Mkhwane won the Naledi Award for Best Newcomer and Homann and Lawson also won the Award for Best New SA Script.

The show is on stage at the Fugard Theatre Studio Saturday June 25, from Tuesday to Saturday, at 8pm. Tickets cost from R120 to R160 and R150 each for groups of more than 10. There is an age restriction of PG 13. Book at Computicket or the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554.