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Phillip Methula Author Interview

When Life is Like A Dream is one of six plays that you have written on the difficult topic of apartheid in South Africa. Why was this an important book for you to write?

One of the things that struck me about the racial tensions in South Africa was the extent to which this is phenomenon is not simply a contemporary event, but has its long and ignominious genesis from past historical prejudices that have been passed from one generation to the next in our country. Even as the country has entered a new post-apartheid era, those negative forces have been left almost intact and are responsible for the current state of the country’s political tensions.

What were some key ideas that were important for you to share in this book?

To this day, South Africa remains as a deeply divided society along a lot of social lines like race, class, gender, ethnicity etc. The idea of my series of plays is to demonstrate how this trend managed to live through the past decades since 1910 under different white political leadership in the country. As time wore on, black people through their painful experiences under white minority, started to challenge the political status quo openly and this descended into a titanic, bloody conflict that left both sides of the racial divide badly scarred. This even led to further divisions within the same racial groups based on ideological outlooks. Aladam sees all this in his dream covering play 1 – 5 and in Play 6 he wakes up to go home as a free man with his fist punching the air.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in your work?

Racial prejudice and how it is reinforced by different outlooks of social groups in a country that lives apart from itself; being thrust in a social environment where forces promoting alienation reign supreme; innocence and betrayal as well repression of thoughts considered to be out of kilter with received ideas of group identity in society.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

When Life Is Like A Dream, historically speaking, starts from 1910 – 1924 when the country came under a single central government of white minority rule under what was considered to be a liberal leadership. The second play picks up the story from 1924 – 1948 when it gets subjected to the government of white conservative forces.

The title of the next book is: Things Are Not What They Seem. The idea is have the remaining five plays all published at the same time to complete the series. The subsequent titles are: When The Dream Is Broken; It Never Dies But Grows Swollen; When You Are Made A Walk To Take; It Shall A Walk Not Easy To Make.

I am working towards sending them off to publishers to test the waters by the end of the year. I am still editing them. The only snag is that I am doing this whilst holding down a full-time job and this is why it’s taking so long.

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On his last night in prison, Aladam, incarcerated for many years for his opposition to white domination in South Africa, dreams about the political struggles that have shaped the course of the country.
The contours of his dream take us through the bewildered state of black people’s lives after the Act of Union in 1910.
We come across an ambitious white President, Nieman, who has been recalled from retirement to protect the country from falling into black hands; the fierce political conflict between the English and the Afrikaners; the sudden onset of the Spanish Influenza ; and the outbreak of a violent white miners’ strike.

When Life is Like a Dream

When Life is Like A Dream is one of six plays that Phillip Methula has written on the difficult topic of apartheid in South Africa.

If the play has a main character, it is Aladam. Aladam is a human rights activist who has spent years imprisoned for opposing racial discrimination in South Africa. The play begins as he spends his last night in prison dreaming of the struggles his people have faced over the years.

As Aladam represents the black perspective, his opposite, Namein is the South African leader tasked with keeping the peace. He must keep his white population happy while always trying to quell the black uprising. Unfortunately, this lands him in deep water when he is called a race traitor for trying to appease the black protestors. Namein’s genuine opinions and beliefs aren’t always clear as a career politician.

While the play has 9 named main characters, there are over 30 unnamed “minor” characters. The main characters are all interesting, but these minor characters are the most important. Race is an issue that affects everyone. It is through these side characters that Methula best shows the opposing points of view of both sides. While the play rightly villainizes racism, Methula is careful to paint the racist white South Africans as humans with their own thoughts and feelings. Their fear, as the status quo that so benefits them is challenged, is palpable. There are no cartoon villains here.

The play has five acts that revolve around separate issues, which all connect to the overarching theme of racism in South Africa. The section covering a fever is particularly interesting. As a fever starts killing indiscriminately, racial paranoia is ramped up. It shows perfectly how people’s prejudices can stop them from working together as both sides point the finger of blame at the other.

While the play deals with heavy themes, Methula’s writing stops the play from ever being too preachy. His characters feel real, showing humor even in the darkest of times. When Life is Like a Dream is an excellent choice for anyone interested in learning about this troubling period of history. You’ll come away from it well informed, entertained, and wiser.

Pages: 290 | ASIN : B07PMJV6J1

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