Township Stories (Festival page)
The State Theatre of South Africa @ Royalty Theatre
9:30pm, Tue 26 Feb 2008
“Contains graphic scenes of sex and violence” says the postcard précis. Woohoo, said I.
Of course, I had a feeling that this depiction of life in a South African township would lean heavily on the violence side of that statement, but I wasn’t really prepared for the brutality that was to unfold. And the opening scene featured the rape and murder of a schoolgirl whore which, even though she was the only person onstage, was utterly chilling.
The rest of the production is a somewhat predictable thriller; with a serial killer on the loose, we’re privy to life of a number of families in a South African township. There’s the cop leading the investigation into the serial killer and his son; the girl who acts as a narrator for some of the story, her drunken father, unfaithful mother, and the criminal to whom she falls pregnant when she runs away from home. The bodies start to pile up, indicated by tokens on the washing-line above the stage, and the story steadily progresses towards its inevitable conclusion.
The production and direction of the piece is wonderful – set scenery is whisked on, off, and back-of-stage by the cast, accompanied by song, between scenes. At times, dialog can be utterly unintelligible – but I’m still unsure whether that was because of accent or language. I suspect the latter, because long dialogues would appear to snap into English about halfway through. There’s no real issue with that though, since the themes are pretty obvious – and universal.
But, let’s face it, Township Stories won’t be remembered for its story, nor its performances – it will be remembered for its sheer, unadulterated brutality. We witness the rape and murder of multiple young girls. We see a schoolgirl gleefully accept her place in life as a whore, before being impregnated in an imaginatively explicit scene. We see a young boy raped by his father, the audience uncomfortably mute as their bed is dragged offstage, the boy whimpering in violation. There’s a girl performing an abortion upon herself. There’s multiple stranglings and gunshots (including one which had the chap sitting in front of me diving for the floor). There’s a completely bizarre zombie-like Zulu hitman who staggers through the streets, machete at his side. The start of the second Act, featuring the beating of a pregnant woman, is brilliantly staged – which feels like an awful thing to say :}
Needless to say, this is a pretty bleak and vicious piece of work. The final scene, featuring the brilliantly-played drunk Dan (Molefi Monaisa) stumbling home in bliss – while his daughter lies raped, dead, at the front & centre of the stage – is chillingly poignant. The massive cast all put in powerful performances in a show which runs about two-and-a-half hours (plus interval).
This was my first Festival show of the year. I certainly hope the rest are a little more positive in nature; whilst an undeniably great piece of work, Township Stories joins the list of shows that are terribly difficult to recommend, such is the nature of its brutality.