THE JOHANNESBURG NIGHT may feel replete with hidden dangers; the world’s become a depressing place where money is always too tight to mention and challenges are plenty and big. But as soon as Dawid Minnaar gently steps between the paper flowers that fill the theatre space, magic is cast, and everything else slips into abeyance. Monsieur Ibrahim en die blomme van die Koran is a whimsical Afrikaans-language tale of history and prejudice, violence and beauty, the likes of which this city’s theatre audiences have not seen for a long time.
Coupled with language so magnificent in its detail and internal rhythms and a set made of paper that will set your heart on fire with its gentle sense of fantasy, this is a flawless piece which will goad you to remember the value of love and the wonder of spinning Dervishes. It’s a glorious monodrama which brings life, the universe and everything into a small area of conviviality in France between a Jewish teenager called MoMo and the local grocer, who is a Sufi Muslim, with many stories and lots of knowledge.
It’s a yarn about shocking loss and surprising gain, about the magic of travel and the meaning of trains. It’s one that enables Minnaar to hold you in the palm of his hand as he takes you from Paris to Istanbul, on a rip-roaring adventure that might evoke Salman Rushdie’s magic realism from his work such as Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
Monsieur Ibrahim is about the discrepancy between Muslim and Jew and the way in which a youngster may gravitate beyond the reaches of biological parents to a mentor of a different stripe. The language is crisp and fine, and if you know a little Afrikaans, by the third paragraph of the work, you’ve forgotten you’re listening to a language which is not your mother tongue. Above all, it’s a tale about letting go, featuring delicate and robust flowers of paper that are magical and utilitarian all at once.
It’s a magnificent play which gives meaning to the notion of a different world brought to life with the tweak of a wrist and the whirl of a Dervish. It’s a theatre experience you may never forget.
- Monsieur Ibrahim en die blomme van die Koran (Monsieur Ibrahim and the flowers of the Koran) is written by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt and translated into Afrikaans by Naòmi Morgan. Directed and designed by Philip Rademeyer, it is performed by Dawid Minnaar in the Barney Simon Theatre, Market Theatre complex in Newtown, Johannesburg, until September 30. Call 011 832 1641.