The Syringa Tree

Thursday, 14 February, 2002

Pamela Gien’s performance in her own play is phenomenal. The energy and passion she relates is breathtaking and amazing. She runs around the stage playing a total of 28 characters with zeal and commitment with each character movingly portrayed from a six-year-old girl to a motherly black servant woman.

This one-woman show first opened off-Broadway New York in September 1999 and won many awards. It has now transferred to the National Theatre for a 7-week limited run.

Part autobiographical, part fictional, the play begins in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1963. The story is first seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl, Elizabeth, who tries to make sense of the world around her as the bond between her white parents and their beloved black servant family are seriously put at risk because of apartheid. And it is though the eyes of this six-year-old girl that most of the story is told, before moving through four generations up to present day free South Africa.

Whilst the play is poignant, the story is thin and only mildly engrossing. But it does succeed in portraying the chaos and confusion that must have existed in those days, particularly for a young girl who is trying to make sense of why people were treated differently because of their colour.

Pamela Gien, who was born in Emmarentia, a suburb of Johannesburg, was asked to write this story by Larry Moss, who directs. This is probably why one can feel her sorrow, and her joy. It is as if she was liberating herself from a dark past she had hidden for so long, such was her passion.

Lasting 1 hour and 35 minutes without an interval the small Cottesloe Theatre is the perfect setting for one woman’s story, told from her own heart.

(Darren Dalglish)

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