Although engaging with all this theatre online has principally been about enjoyment, there have been many times when watching something has also educated me about an aspect of historical, geographical, economic, scientific and artistic matters. Occasionally a whole new perspective is presented. This was certainly the case with Forgotten Voices which introduced me to a figure I had never heard of and it’s a pretty fair bet that you won’t have either.
Eva Moorhead Kadalie was born in South Africa in 1908, a child of mixed race. She went on to be the partner of Clements Kadalie who spearheaded a movement to reform the laws governing workers rights, especially as applied to the black population. This eventually became a struggle which paved the way for Nelson Mandela and the ANC to take on the white supremacist government. The Kadalies moved to Britain in 1956 escaping the dominant apartheid regime. History seems to have consigned Eva to a supporting role – she does not even warrant a separate entry on Wikipedia and appears as a footnote on her husband’s. This play, therefore, highlights not only the conflict over race but also that of women being recognised, or rather failing to be recognised, for their contribution to historic events. Hers was very much in danger of being one of the forgotten voices of the title.
It seems appropriate, therefore, that Eva’s is the only direct voice we hear in this solo show rightly placing her front and centre of the events of her own life. We see her in 1956 on the deck of a ship just about to leave Durban and head for Southampton. She addresses the audience directly as “Sister Durban” and in the last hour before the vessel sets sail she reflects on her progress through what she designates her “seven lives” so far. These include her rejection by her white father and the struggles that she and her brother George faced growing up in a segregated society where she never really belonged to either community. We hear about her relationship with trade union activist Kadalie who led a damaging Cape Town docks strike, the creation of the ICU and the country’s inexorable move towards full apartheid instituted in the late 1940s. There are also other dark secrets which Eva is at first reluctant to reveal but which she finally acknowledges before making her break with her homeland to start her eighth life. Of a personal nature, these are even more moving and give an indication of the private life which is hidden behind the public face.
David Moorhead, Eva’s grandson, has written this celebration of her indomitable spirit. It was performed as part of the most recent Black History month at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Local actor Shareesa Valentine plays Eva and is totally engaging in the role. It is no mean feat to command attention for 70 minutes, but the actor manages this extremely well taking us through a range of emotions and with a consummate understanding of pace and timing. Some of the most telling moments are the silences that punctuate the monologue which has been skilfully directed by Margaret Connell. The set is very simple with just a bench, a pile of suitcases and the railings of the ship’s deck; Valentine occasionally switches costume in full view as she moves from the account of one life to another. It really needs nothing more, though, to make an impact. My one real criticism is that whoever was operating the camera doing the filming needed to refrain from changing shot quite so often; it is quite distracting, particularly in some of the more intense moments.
That one issue aside, this is a well-produced and executed piece of theatre which tells a story that cries out to be told. As the internet is largely silent on the subject of this person’s life, let this play stand as a clarion call for forgotten voices everywhere.