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Love vs racism in ‘Fear Eats the Soul’

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A play titled Fear Eats the Soul, which in German is Angst Essen Seele Auf, finally premiered at Blantyre Sports Club on Tuesday night.

This is a 1974 West German film written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The film won two awards at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival and is considered to be one of Fassbinder’s most powerful works and is hailed by many as a masterpiece.

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The film was thus adapted for the stage and directed by Johanna Schall, the granddaughter of famous writer and director Bertolt Brecht, at Theater Konstanz in Germany with its premiere in February.

For the enactment of Fear Eats the Soul, the country’s Nanzikambe actor Mphundu Mjumira was invited to play the lead role.

After over 15 shows in Germany, the play was revived in English in order to reverse the audience’s perspective, hence its staging in Malawi with support from German Federal Foreign Office.

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It was a different setup all together moving away from the usual plays where the cast comes from the back stage.

A wardrobe of clothes, wigs, props and costumes for changing were all there for the audience to see as the cast went about the business from one scene to the other.

The lights were there too, well controlled for the beauty of the production.

The audience watched the play from the centre and it was all simple for the cast which also had to play it fast without keeping the stage boring.

While in Germany, the play was in German, fused with some Chichewa, just to keep up with the audience, here it was in English and Chichewa.

Before the actors went into action, the audience was warned in advance of some offensive language in some scenes.

And, true to their words, Mjumira, who stars in the play, vomits some strong words in one of the scenes.

The play, which is fused with songs from Malawi, tells the story of Mphundu and Emmi Kurowski, who meet for the first time in a pub in Germany – both trying to drown their sorrows differently.

Mphundu’s request to dance ends up in the two spending the night together.

An almost accidental romance is kindled between the 60-year-old woman and the Malawian migrant worker who is more than 10 years younger.

The presumably mismatched couple falls in love despite their age difference, find support in each other and discover how similar they are in their loneliness.

Despite all the hostility of neighbours, work colleagues and relatives, they live their relationship confidently and publicly.

They abruptly decide to marry, appalling everyone, including the woman’s children, around them.

What follows is a bitter and noxious reaction over their relationship, revealing every character in their lives.

Gossipy neighbours and shop vendors treat them with contempt.

Kurowski is shunned by her co-workers and even her children, and Mphundu faces discrimination at every turn.

The struggle for their shared happiness is threatened, not only by the discrimination from the people around them, but also by their own fears and doubts.

But, despite the age difference and colour, love plays a part in conquering everything.

The ending is even attractive with the two on stage looking into each other’s eyes before they give a bow attracting applause from the impressive audience.

One of the people who watched the play, Mike Mpopo, was satisfied with the performance.

“It’s a good play and mature. It’s tackling issues of racism. There are people who are still racist but we don’t have to differentiate between black and white,” Mpopo said.

Mjumira said he was nervous as he was not sure how the audience would react.

“The performance was good, I was a little bit nervous as I was not sure what the audience would say and respond but it went well,” Mjumira said.

He said the Nanzikambe and Theater Konstanz partnership means a lot to the creative industry as it shows that Malawi has talent.

Mjumira also said people are mostly used to a different stage set-up.

“The theatre industry is used to spoon feeding in the country but we need to change and adapt,” he said.

One of Theater Konstanz members, Toni, said:

“It was scary for us to perform because this is a different audience and we did not know what to expect as our English is not good but it was exciting.”

The play invades The Great Hall in Zomba tonight and on Saturday the play goes to Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe.

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