Guinee writer Williams Sassine was honoured with a play in his honour at World Book Capital 2017 in Guinee Conakry. The performances was staged at the Franco Guinee Cultural Centre on April 23rd.
William Sassine was a Guinee novelist who wrote of marginalised characters and had to flee into exile away from Sekou Toure when he got the attention the friendly leader of his homeland. He was a prolific writer with his novel Les Jeune Homme de sable considered one of the best novels written by an African, and human, in the twentieth century. He put more pressure on his president in exile as editor of satirical paper Le Lynx. He mellowed out when his muse Sekou Toure passed away in 1984.
So with Guinee Conakry hosting the World Book Capital 2017 celebrations, you had better believe that they wouldn’t be missing out on bringing out one of their most celebrated sons who isn’t Camara Laye. This is a gentleman who had been translated from his original French to English, Spanish and Russian.
So our good friends at the Franco Guinee Cultural Centre hosted a play at their centre in Conakry to a filled house with many of the supporters of theatre and literature in attendance. The show was about… OK I have covered theatre before in my cultural reporting career but this one flummoxed me especially if you consider that I was a non-French speaker. My experience was that usually you don’t need to speak the language as the script and the actors allow you to understand where it is all going generally. This was different. Very very different.
The set was one with many single papers spread out all over the stage with a screen in the background playing. So there was a cast of three; two African gentlemen and one European lady in the play. The European lady sat at a table covered by a white sheet and with a laptop on top. The two gentlemen were moving about leaving and coming back on stage at intervals leaving either two cast members or three on stage. At different points, one guy would sit on the one chair on offer while the other would look back at them in a very weird actor look I really cannot describe in English. I suspect that in French speak they were looking very cool but this is not a theatre form that I am not very familiar with.
The part that really got my head in, as if this is not confusing enough already, was that the people on stage had minimal dialogue. The dialogue for long periods was channelled from the screen at the back where the actors who had been pre-recorded. We would listen to their gems of wisdom alongside the actor who would just be hanging around waiting for his pre-recorded self to earn his bucks. I was left wondering that this form of theatre perhaps didn’t need you to remember your lines as you simply needed to remember them on recording day.
So there I was sitting alongside the actors as we would listen to the screen which had dialogue in French which I couldn’t understand unless there was a mention of worlds like derriere, heh. I knew that it would be one of those weird nights when one of the guy actors, the one with the goatee, turned weird on us. He stood from a chair in the back and walked to the front in a very dramatic manner which entailed him bending forward, flapping his arms like he was flying away and yelling in a gurgling voice. It was for me very confusing and eventually I had to flee from that hall before he started doing the worm on the ground as he grunted like a racoon.
As I was cowering outside the theatre trying to figure what the hell just happened, two of my pals consoled me as they explained that there were two schools of thought about this unintelligible form of theatre (for me). One explained that this was high art in the French theatrical form while the other explained that they had no idea what was going on and they were French speakers. I guess that whether you spoke or not, this would a form of honour that only a select few would understand.
I may have not had an idea what went on stage but game recognised game.
We celebrate you Williams Sassine.
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[…] member James Murua is based in Nairobi, Kenya. See his literary blog, jamesmurua.com—including this article on the celebration of William Sassine in Conakry. The World Book Capital celebrations in 2018 will be hosted in the Greek city of Athens. The 72 […]