Sentimentality is a danger that lurks ever present in a play about a deceased father, ready to clutch at the performance and smother it to its chest.
It is a danger Tony Miyambo nimbly evades in The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri despite this being a highly personal story. It may clutch an ankle or grab at a wrist on occasion but Miyambo adroitly slips its grasp, honesty his armour.
He avoids it by approaching his subject side-on, the narrative tacking toward its goal as if facing it straight on would be to risk an overwhelming grief.
His eyes remain dry. Ours don’t. In so delicately reflecting on his own paternal relationship, Miyambo gives us space to contemplate our own, whether existing or absent, and in so doing, compassionate reflection wells up within us, personal and unsullied by manipulated empathy.
The light-fingered literary touch of William Harding – credited as dramaturg – who adapted the sublime On Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof, is evident in the text in which the soft repetition of seemingly mundane recollections gives them strength, as multiple strands of the thinnest silk woven together can create rope strong enough to pull a ship of sorrow into safe harbour.
Gerard Bester’s temperate touch allows Miyambo to erect a cenotaph that is able to securely contain the love he feels for his father without being in any way maudlin or mawkish.
There are no breakdowns, no melodrama, just presence and feeling and compassion expressed with tender humour.
The father tenderly bathes his young son’s face. The son protectively bathes his old man’s body.
In performance Miyambo tells us his funeral speech felt like a performance. This then, is his true elegy.
Programme notes here.