Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A sensitively directed production of Athol Fugard’s 1972 play with searing performances that ensure its resonance for audiences today
So does a play first performed 40 years ago about the injustices of the apartheid system still have the power to shock? Yes, yes, and yes again. And more than that: to move, to anger, to outrage and to provoke thought. Kim Kersfoot’s production of Athol Fugard’s Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act is a sensitively directed interpretation of the play with outstanding performances from the two leading actors, Malefane Mosuhli and Bo Petersen, and a strong support from Jeroen Kranenburg.
Two lovers, a black man and a white woman, meet in the back room of the library with the lights out. A neighbour, who has spotted their furtive comings and goings over the previous months, reports them to the police. Their relationship is illegal under the Immorality Act which prohibits relationships between people of different colours.The two actors are naked on stage throughout. Their performances are brave, honest and utterly compelling.
When the play opens, the two actors are lying together under a blanket on the floor on a dimly lit stage. They caress and share intimacies, their love apparent in their gestures and openness with each other. As the play progresses, the tensions become apparent. They are unnaturally sensitive to every outside sound and to the light of the window on the stage, afraid of the intrusion of the outside world. But the outside world has already intruded into their space; both of them are defined and restricted by their colour, unable to comprehend or totally reach the other. “If you’re going to dream, give yourself five rooms, man”, he says, even the parameters of his dreams measured out by the colour of his skin. Apartheid’s greatest power was in its stripping away of human dignity and connection.
So intense is the intimacy they create with each other and with the audience, that when the police arrive and the couple are caught again and again in the flashlights, running exposed around the stage, it is hard to look on – and yet to look away feels like an act of moral cowardice.After the arrest, the couple’s body language says it all. Previously they were naked and unashamed. Now they are cowering, covering up, ashamed; a South African Adam and Eve banished from even the meagre garden they had been able to fashion for themselves. Malefane Mosuhli and Bo Petersen perform out of their skins: these are performances of bravery, emotional honesty and moral integrity.
The play was originally written by Athol Fugard and given its first performance in 1972 at his multiracial Space Theatre in Cape Town . At that time, apartheid was still in full force, and theatre companies were as racially segregated as the rest of society; Fugard and his Space Theatre were pioneers in challenging the injustices of apartheid. While apartheid is now history and the infamous Immorality Act was repealed in 1985, the play still has a resonance today. It speaks to us directly of the impact of state interference in relationships and of the power of racism (and the other ‘isms’) to distort relationships. Apartheid may be a thing of the past, but issues over who may or may not love each other and whether governments condone or prohibit certain relationships remain with us today. We only need to look to the debate on equal marriage in Scotland and the proposed ban on homosexual acts in Uganda to see that Fugard still has a relevance today.