The Syringa Tree

by Pamela Gein

Told through live music, original physical theatre and classic storytelling… Syringa Tree is a deeply personal story of  an abiding love between two families – one white, one black – and the children that are born into their shared South African household in the early 1960’s.

“An absolute must see..” The Stage

A 90-minute show performed by a single actor can be as much a marathon for the audience as for the performer but Gin Hammond makes it all seem so easy. Her depiction of growing up in South Africa across two decades is as effortless as it is enchanting.

The challenge is writer Pamela Gien’s semi-autobiographical epic of the interconnected lives of Johannesburg residents – the white Grace family, their black servants, their neighbours. The central role is Lizzie Grace, who is six years old in 1963 the first time we meet her. Her transformation as she grows up over the following 20 years throws a mirror on us all just as events in her local community reflect her country’s apartheid regime traumatically resisting the winds of change.

Through sleight of hand, conversations with herself, dance and song, Hammond shows enviable confidence in juggling the 24 characters that include wise nanny Salamina, a Jewish doctor and bigoted Afrikaner neighbours. Languages such as Xhosa and Afrikaans feature, adding a further layer of rich realism.

Paul Bourne’s direction and Vic Phillipson’s lighting combine to create moods, spaces and the passage of time out of nothing but a stage bare save for a swing. Charming, entrancing, harrowing, inspiring, this is a double must see: for Hammond’s technical tour de force and Gien’s message that growing up does not have to mean the loss of innocence and that it can evolve into hope.

To see a video click here

Reviewed by Nick Awde for Pleasance Courtyard. 17th August 2006.