Last night I went to see the final performance of the very short run of Ubuze Bam at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective. Directed by Thando Dhoni, four real life parolees perform stories from their lives, and their time in prison. Not gonna lie, it felt like I was doing my community service by going. You know that feeling? The show you should, and aught to see, but don’t really in your soul want to? Sometimes your soul is utterly surprised, shaken up, thrown about, and possibly fundamentally changed. Last night that is what happened to us.
Sitting in that space for just under an hour was a combination of agony, heartache, hope, hell and even humour, in the most profound, delicate, searing and brain challenging way.
Thando is absolutely magical at creating ritual and meaning through repeated movement and he managed to get four non-actors to deliver complex and terrifying material with such complexity. I was undone. I started crying and couldn’t stop. When one of what seemed to be the more quiet performers let rip in an agony of screams, demands, pleadings and rage, behind a converted bench of prison bars, I could barely breathe. “Ndidiniwe” – I am tired, he wailed over and over and over again. I could only imagine.
You cannot ever forget, while watching them, that these young men have just come out of prison, serving time for hard core crimes. You cannot ever forget that they are now performing for an audience who are listening to them instead of separated out from them. You cannot ever forget the hideous and terrible things we do to each other, and the the exact opposite; humanity, compassion and connection.
There is no doubt that this was one of the hardest, most beautiful and challenging performances to witness, but it is clear that it changed me, us, the audience, as much as it changed these young men. I pray to a god I don’t believe in that they will feel that change for a very long time. And that they will do this play forever.