Off to Artscape’s Arena theatre I went last night for the opening night of the play adaptation of K. Sello Duiker‘s book The Quiet Violence of Dreams, adapted into a play by Ashraf Johaardien, which was as long as this sentence! The Siyasanga company in association with Artscape presented it, with Fatima Dike directing the sexy, young cast of Fikile Mahola, Richard Lothian, Chiedza Mhende, Pierre Malherbe, Lee Roodt and Chris Gxalaba.
I have such mixed, and even conflicting thoughts and feelings about this production. I suppose that could be good, but I’m not sure. The story is about a young man who struggles with mental illness, all wrapped up with his struggle with his identity, who ends up on the road to a semblance of stability after finding himself working as a rent boy in a Cape Town massage parlour. The play explores the seedy, underbelly (I hate that word) of Cape Town in the shadow of its wealth, glamour and tourist shine. Maybe I’ve been reading too many crime novels set in Cape Town but it seems that everybody is digging around in its seedy underbelly (that word again).
One of the things I loved best about the script were the casual mentions of all things Cape Town. I know the city so well I was able to place the date of the play by the mention of The Piano Lounge. Cape Town was beautifully captured, from a drama student’s flat, to an ex-con’s Sea Point place, to a room in Valkenberg. I always knew I was watching a story that was unfolding right here, in this city, with the comings and goings of a group of young people, and how fraught, complicated and contradictory their lives are.
So what’s the problem? So far so good, it seems. Well, firstly, the play was longer than Mamma Mia! Two very long acts, with a lot of scenes that felt like repeats. There has to be a better way to chop and cut it down. Then there was the very well justified but seriously old-fashioned graphic sex and nudity and sexual violence. I certainly wasn’t the only one in the audience who found this awkward and embarrassing, and that is different from being challenged and finding it uncomfortable. It was clumsy, unsexy and cringe worthy.
Some riveting scenes of drama, like the strange scenes and interesting dialogue between the Falkenberg inmates, the weird scenes with the protagonist Tshepo (Fikile Mahola) and his father (Chris Gxalaba), and the quirky, short but powerful scene where Tshepo loses his waitering job, were interspersed with interminable, repetitive scenes, minute in their detail of naturalism.
Then there was the furniture; the endless, moving around of these big heavy blocks of the set in between scenes. Endless.
I enjoyed watching all the performers. I love Pierre Malherbe, and the characters he played were different, interesting and engaging. I found Lee Roodt strange and magnetic. I thought Chiedza Mhende was gorgeous if a bit one dimensional, but that could have been Mmabatho, the character she played. Fikile Mahola was fantastic as Tshepo the protagonist. He was clear, emotional and convincing. But I remained totally unmoved by the story, and the comings and goings of this little bunch of lives.
It’s entirely possible that this story is a bit dated; it sits in the steam room heydays of Cape Town in the early nineties, so what it needs is a different approach. Perhaps a more consistent stylisation that would bring it onto that big, white open canvass of the set? Perhaps a more descriptive approach to the sex, without us having to watch every last bulge, bum wobble, funny undies and performer having to do it all? It feels like it is just trying too hard to be controversial and dangerous, but we’ve been there. And done that. And it’s been better.