7 December 2012

Namibia: What I Heard From the Cheap Seats


When reviewing handel’s ‘Messiah’ while courting a severe case of piles on the cold backstage floor of the national Theatre of Namibia, you kind of get to thinking you’re in the wrong line of work.

Like most things, journalism looks a little more glamourous on TV. And though I have prepared myself for a life of prime seats and champagne on tap when tasked with reporting on films, launches or theatre – the truth is that, more often than not, I’m placed in a spot where I can’t see, can barely hear and in which there is a resident cougher punctuating every sage sound bite.

As a self-proclaimed Cheap Seat Savant, I’ve managed to make the most out of being seated near fire escapes, next to blocked toilets or simply not at all. however, my lowly, make- shift and entirely moveable seat for handel’s ‘Messiah’ was perhaps my cheapest seat of all.

With the show sold out and security quite adamant about these pesky things called fire laws, I decided to listen to the famous oratorio from in between the lavatories, the watercooler and the backstage door.

Fortunately for me the spot provided some pre-concert entertainment and I was thoroughly diverted by the black and white clad choir flitting past in the throes of singing arpeggios, clearing their throats, asking me for tissues or anxiously inquiring as to whether I was okay (in the head.)

As my sanity was in question, and given my incessant scribbling and my totally calm and cross-legged stance on the cold tile floor, I thought it wise not to inform the line of choristers at the watercooler that drinking ice cold liquid constricts the vocal chords and hinders the vibrations needed to produce sound.

My logic behind this was that they would not trust the word of a seeming lunatic so my most effective course of action would be to give them my most encouraging smile in the hope that my implied endorsement of pre- concert water-drinking would dissuade them.

After a few more inquiring looks, the choir moved on in a symphony of phlegm-hocking and squawks of anticipation and I was left alone in the hall way as the audience burst into applause at the precise moment in which the choir shuffled onto the boards and the stagehand closed the interlinking door.

Though I knew I would hardly be able to hear the oratorio, I was pleased that some sound triumphed over the solid red door and bathed me in muffled majesty. however, a flock of birds, being the empathetic and helpful creatures that they are, soon got wind of my diluted experience and proceeded to augment my oratorio with a chorus of screeches and flying hellishly about.

As I was frantically trying to shoo away black birds with all the restraint silent screams require, a man who resembled Raul Julia walked by grinning as though he was straight off the set of ‘The Addams Family’.

And as muffled majesty, the plague of piles and an escalating scene from Alfred hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ (1963) was all a little too much to bear, I decided to forego the ‘Messiah’ for some merlot with one of my long lost friends.

Though this review may be of little use to those who prefer to attend the theatre from the right side of the curtain, for those with no qualms about listening from floor and through door, the first 20 minutes of the national Symphonic Orchestra and the Namibian Symphonic Choir’s presentation of handel’s ‘Messiah’ was fantastic.

Much muted, plagued by birds and Raul Julia doppelgangers but really quite lovely all the same.

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