This gripping, if somewhat uncomfortable, new theatre work by Gina Shmukler asks where one draws the line when it comes to violence?
Gina Shmukler is well known to Johannesburg audiences as a singer/actress, in which capacity she has won many awards. The Drama for Life Programme is an academic programme which looks at some tough human rights issues, particularly health issues, through theatre media. One of the pieces being promoted to the mainstream theatre-going public is The Line, a work presented as part of Ms Shmukler’s Masters degree at Wits University. I have a mistrust of theatre which has an agenda. Often the agenda is more powerful than the theatre, leaving me feeling manipulated and vaguely out of sorts, if not downright angry. Not so with this work.
The Line might have an agenda, but it is also good – no, make that excellent – theatre. It explores the May 2008 xenophobic violence through the eyes of a young photojournalist (Gabi Harris) who interviews various characters, male and female (Khutjo Green). The acting is entirely plausible, particularly that of Khutjo Green. One never doubts for a moment that this is the truth. While the acting plays its role in the integrity of this work, it is the script which is the real driving force of the events of those dark days and the current look at them. I will be surprised if this work is not nominated for “Best New South African Work” by the Naledi panel of judges.
The work explores how ordinary South Africans, male and particularly female, could have perpetrated the violence against their neighbours, people known to them. The work was inconclusive, hauntingly sad, frighteningly real. This is gut-wrenching gripping theatre. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the production.
The set (Niall Griffin) made use of lots and lots of bottles, each with a photo and the accompanying “story” in it. During the play only a few of these bottles are opened. The unsaid whole is left unexplored, simply hanging in the air, for the audience to reflect on.
The psyche of the South African people is laid bare on the sensitive issue of foreigners in a country where poverty and unemployment is a national disgrace. The audience mulls over the whole issue as we wander through the lives of those affected. As the victims and perpetrators gain a voice the audience is challenged.
Where does one draw the line?
The Line, written and directed by Gina Shmukler, starring Khutjo Green and Gabi Harris, design by Niall Griffin and music by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, is on at the Barney Simon, Upstairs at The Market, until 12 August 2012.