Theatre A more urgent look at old South African themes

A more urgent look at old South African themes

Every now and again at the Festival when you have a moment to kill, you take your chances with a production that was not part of your plans, or even on your radar. Sometimes this gamble pays off; more often it doesn’t. With Boy: A Note to a Generation I can happily say that my experience was the former.

Ofentse Motsamai and Sinovuyo Sebakeng appear in Boy: A Note To A Generation. Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo

Ofentse Motsamai and Sinovuyo Sebakeng appear in Boy: A Note
To A Generation. Photo: CuePix/Tamani Chithambo

The play, which follows a young man named Boy as he navigates the complexities of living in a community plagued by service delivery protests, is small in scale. It is, however, emotionally sweeping. Police brutality and black bodies gutted and left in the streets are well-worn tropes in local theatre. We keep returning to them because they remain relevant, although this production gives these familiar areas of enquiry fresh legs.

Initially I was irritated by the constant use of a live score of drums and guitar to underpin every scene, and to serve as a guide to all the emotional arcs in the play. But once I got over that and focused on the action, I was pleased by how deliberate the whole thing is. Through monologues and flourishes of song, Boy introduces the characters around him and the circumstances of a police shooting that has community members ready to burn down the police station.

The play is not without its flaws. Some narrative threads are under-explored, like Boy’s love for a girl called Nomathemba, whose eyes and smiles he praises. It would have been interesting to explore more closely the impact that growing up and living in such a restless place can have on a relationship.
What makes this production work, however, is that it is decisively, unambiguously a tragedy. It offers no clear solutions, yet avoids assigning of easy blame. It is humane. Technically, the show is faultless; the actors hit their mark and remain lucid throughout. They give the show a sincerity that’s often lost in performances pre-occupied with being professional.
The play comes to a climax as the community decides whether they should protest or not, and it is then that another shot rings out. It is sudden and deafening; things spiral. It’s here that Boy is at its most cinematic. Nomathemba wails as she sees another black body hit the ground, her shouts echoing and bouncing around the walls of the theatre without a particular place to land.

She pleads with us, the audience, to do something. We sit there, motionless and uncomfortable, unwilling to act. And that’s the point, isn’t it? The play makes our lack of action emblematic. By the time I left the show, I was on the verge of weeping.

The Hangar,
8 July, 7pm.

Sihle Mthembu
Cue guest writer

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