Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Written and directed by Omphile Molusi, Cadre is inspired by the true life events of an APLA soldier during the apartheid era. Omphile Molusi has created a stage piece that will eloquently help “remind ourselves of why we fought for freedom so that we avoid history repeating itself,” as he puts it. It explores this territory through the journey of a young South African man struggling to negotiate his way through the days of apartheid; losing first his brother and then his first love, alone in the world he fights for his and South Africa’s freedom.
Wars don’t end; people just stop fighting but are left with the remnants of war contained corrosively within themselves. Cadre is the story of a South Africa scarred with invisible wounds from its past which continue to define its present.
South African writer-director Omphile Molusi, best known for his play "Itsoseng," came to the play from a realisation that there was a distance between him and his uncle. What he found in the older generation was a containment of what had happened during the years of the fight against apartheid, and how their freedom is tainted by what happened in the fight for it.
The story is of a young boy whose brother gets killed in the struggle against apartheid and whose first love has to move home because of apartheid. Left alone by the people he loves, he leaves home to become an activist with the Pan African Congress (PAC) and to seek revenge for his brother. His journey tears him from his family, his life as an activist being first as a messenger for the PAC and later as a double agent, setting him apart from others. It is his role as double agent that leads to his personal downfall; while he is finally able to confront his nemesis and revenge his brother, it comes at great personal cost. “What is freedom without love?” is his impassioned call.
The writing is simple and unadorned, the staging straightforward, and the acting strong and passionate – and the effect is overwhelming. In its form, Cadre is deceptively simple. In its poor theatre techniques and backing of music and dance, it feels like agit prop theatre from the 1980s, but that was then and this is now. Telling a story from apartheid days which continues to reverberate today through the political theatre of that time reinforces its message, and draws you up to a halt as you come to realise how much it still holds in the present. Though it would be interesting to see the political transition reflected in the theatrical form, and that does not appear to have moved on.
It is played by a cast of three fine actors. Omphile Molusi is actor and director as well as writer. He’s a remarkable actor with an intense stage presence and an unmistakable moral authority. Lilian Tshabalata is a shapeshifter who manages to change her age and character at will. Sello Motloung switches character and supports the leading actors well.
The stage is simply set with sheets hung from tree trunks and festooned with washing. There is some simple shadow puppetry, and some songs sung in Setswana, Zulu and Xhosa.
Though Moluso is multi-talented perhaps a separate director might have added some perspective and more distance. Also, while the three actors handle the play well a larger cast might have added more context. But these are minor criticism of a play that is well constructed and solid.
Cadre is a slow burner of a show that catches you by surprise. It’s a simple story, well told and well acted, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotion that swelled up at the end: apartheid is over but it continues to wreak its damage.