Se Ke Seromamowa Sa Botswana

Capital Players And Other Kulture

Although work kept me busy, there was lots going on out of hours, too. Botswana had no TV service and we enjoyed making our own amusements in the evenings. With a swimming pool only 500m away at the local Gaborone Club, a keen interest in ham radio, and the amateur dramatic society, Capital Players, there was plenty to do.

I did learn to appreciate traditional music, which has lots of leg rattles, one-string violins and tin whistles. One recurring pattern in Botswana traditional music is the use of hand-clapping to the 12-beat rhythm 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 (try saying it, emphasising the "1" beat). This is a well-known African rhythm - cross-rhythms can be built up when different clappers offset the start of their sequence by a few beats.

Back in Manchester in 1974 I'd written a musical for a local church group. Hearing this, Gaborone's mostly expatriate dramatic society, Capital Players, roped me in to write the music for the 1975 Christmas pantomime. The libretto included such memorable songs as "Santa Claus's Driving Test" and couplets like: "I believe in you/I know that you are real/I wish that I could let you know/Exactly how I feel . ." The tunes, of course, were outstanding. Pru did the costumes.

After it, someone suggested that to help the national fundraising effort for Botswana's University, we should stage the original Manchester version of "Crossfire" in Gaborone's Trinity Church. It went down a storm, filling the 600-seater church every night. The musical began with a supposed funeral procession with the audience in almost total darkness; one latecomer took one look at this, exclaimed "That man is TOO dead!" and fled into the night.

Crossfire poster
Guys and Dolls programme cover We invited the then Vice-President of Botswana (Dr. Quett Masire) to the gala night of Crossfire. He loved it. Our involvement with Capital Players snowballed from that point, and even before our first long vacation Pru and I had helped to put on a string of club nights and a full-length production of "Guys and Dolls" as well.

Over the next seven years we remained deeply involved with Capital Players. "My Fair Lady", "The Mikado" and many other productions gave Pru and me a great deal of pleasure. Together with a very close friend of ours, Dinah Auton, I wrote yet another musical, "The Gift of the Magi" in 1979; it was quite favourably reviewed (48k) and even made it into the Johannesburg Star (108k), no less (roughly the equivalent of the London Daily Mail.) I tended to do the musical direction for the things I was involved in, though there were a couple of slightly scary years when I looked after the lights as well!

A decade later, the 1990 edition of "The Rough Guide" to Zimbabwe and Botswana said rather disparagingly: ". . . you won't be missing much if you avoid the dull ex-pat Capital Players." I don't know how much Capital Players changed in the six years after we left but there may be some truth in that observation. With a limited talent pool and a transient expatriate community, people tended to play safe with productions. It was also quite difficult to cross the gap between white Western theatre and Batswana culture - though I'm sure we could have tried harder and I was sometimes uneasy about it.

However, some of my happiest moments came from our involvement with Capital Players. An example was a Christmas production of a children's play, "Hijack Over Hygenia" at which President Quett Masire was the guest of honour. To the consternation of his security staff, the script called for members of the cast to pass among the audience. The memory of this distinguished and slightly bemused Head of State being enthusiastically covered in sticky paper dots (representing measles) at the climax of the play will remain with me for a very long time.

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