If we’re to think of the arts as an ideology of humanism, then it shouldn’t surprise us that Fanon’s career began in the arts. In 1949, before he became renowned for his writings as a psychiatrist and political philosopher, Fanon wrote the play, The Drowning Eye, alongside Parallel Hands. He was merely twenty four.
Unified under the themes of love, tragedy, language and identity, the play is filled with drama. Its extensive dialogue and use of metaphor at times leave it impenetrable. The viewer is a witness to the scattered and ambiguous qualities of the unconscious mind. The play is centred around the main character, François — performed by Moagi Kai — who is tormented by his own desires, dreams and doubts.
In his text, The Temptation to Seclusion, Peter Capifreddi describes François as representing “a hermetic intellectuality that sustains its rigor and integrity by maintaining an aloof distance from an irrational, philistine and corrupt world.” There’s no both/and, only diametric opposition, here and there – I do not want the germ of their decay coming to live alongside me…. say to me that you will never laugh as they do…that you will never cry as they do, he declares.
Kai’s disciplined and emotive performance inspires empathy for François who is in direct contrast to Lucien. Lucien’s ethos is based on action, bravery and movement against contemplation. Between them is their shared love interest Ginette. Lucien is performed by Mongezi Ntukwana, who offers a forceful and energetic embodiment of the character. The decision to have Ginnete’s character played by two actors — Nonhlanhla Sidiki and Sivuyise Kibido — was an interesting one. It broke the potential monotony of prolonged dialogue. Although quite different in style and sensibility, each performer brought a powerful and compelling contribution to Ginette’s character. Another effective strategy was the interspersion of scenes by Lesego Rampolokeng’s disembodied voice reading scene notes.
The production team took seriously the effect of lighting in the play, which often functioned as cues capturing the mood of the characters – Lucien’s insistence on the warm midday light against Ginette’s bright and glowing moon light. The costumes too, represented a visual contrast — François in all black, Lucien’s ivory, as well as Ginette’s change in costume which signalled a change of heart.
The Drowning Eye reads as an autobiographical work, perhaps because the mystery that surrounds François is equal to the mystery that surrounds Fanon. But more than that, the play reads as a surrealist offering whose goal is to free language, thought and human experience from despotic boundaries of rationalism. Here is Fanon, endlessly (re)creating himself. His political commitments traced both in his fiction and non-fiction works.
Tamara Guhrs and Stacy Hardy — who conceptualised the play — in conjunction with KwaSha, the Market Theatre Lab and Windybrow Arts Centre delivered a beautiful interpretation of a difficult play.
The Drowning Eye was performed at the National Arts Festival in conversation with the exhibition, Revolutionary Love.