During an interview with a PhD student on Friday I was asked whether I, with my performance, was trying to be like the real person I’m interpreting in Rendition Monologues (Binyam Mohamed). To sound like him. To move like him. Honestly, as weird as it sounds, I don’t know the answer.

The aim of Rendition Monologues, and of all the plays in the monologue series by iceandfire/Actors For Human Rights is to bring to the open voices and testimonies from those whom the play is about. The words are more important than anything else. So, unless the actor is able to produce the perfect accent, Christine Bacon (writer/director) would rather have the actors use their natural accent.

We went to see PALACE OF THE END at the Traverse Theatre, which I find, in a way, similar to Rendition Monologues. It’s a play

Ery Nzaramba as Binyam Mohamed, Photo by Ben Chessell

about Lynndie England, the American soldier photographed making a thumbs-up gesture beside naked Iraqi captives in Abu Ghraib prison, Dr David Kelly, moments before he took his own life and an Iraqi woman whose family have been slaughtered by the secret police when the US still supported Saddam’s regime. The play is simply a set of three monologues, from these three real people. Unlike Rendition Monologues though, Palace Of The End is dramatised, a mixture of facts and fiction. And the actors are being/impersonating the (real) characters. It’s a very powerful play where you experience the full power of “theatre”. You come out feeling really affected. But my friend, who is familiar with the Iraqi accent, said the accent used by the actor for the Iraqi woman wasn’t Iraqi, and he was put off by that. He kept wondering where the woman was supposed to be from and when he heard she was Iraqi he just couldn’t believe it. I’m not familiar with the Iraqi accent so was able to appreciate the play. So that’s the danger of using accents.

With Rendition Monologues, as my colleague rightly observed, not only are you affected but you generally feel you have to do something, because you know it’s all real and factual – no fiction. Why then, was the interviewer’s next question, use theatre to communicate those stories? Well, if someone were to read out something to an audience, flat out, for an hour, how long would it take before people switch off and loose interest? The stage, the set, the lighting… create the ‘occasion’, make it a special thing and people want to watch and listen. And there is the actor’s emotional investment in the words. And when the piece is well written and the characters well drawn, as is the case with Rendition Monologues, the actor can come very close to the characters as ‘imagined’ by the writer (in this case the real people as described by the writer). In my case I did research Binyam Mohamed, I listened to his interviews and I looked at the photos of him that are available online. We have practically the same age (our birthdays are three days apart, though not the same year) and our natural accent are quite similar. However, the Binyam who’s being interviewed right after his release is dejected, exhausted and very different to the Binyam in the play (in detention) who is very defiant throughout. So in my performance I’m not necessarily trying to impersonate Binyam as such, but by investing emotionally in his words, and because of the similarities I, Ery, have with Binyam (good casting!), maybe my work looks like a characterisation.

By Ery Nzaramba, actor, Rendition Monologues

This blog was reprinted from a blog post on 21 August on http://nzaramba.com/


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