I wanted to love The Living, the second play in Artscape’s 3rd Writings Season. Beethoven in Raptus was the first and A Circus Side Show is the third. Fatima Dike directs Themba Tsotsi’s script. The cast are Wandilisele Makana, Lungi Phinda and Mhimi Mabona.
The play takes place in a house in Gugulethu and it tells the story of a schoolboy searching for answers to his past. He needs to get his history from his older skollie brother and his auntie, who he has gone to live with after the death of his mother. What he unravels becomes overwhelmingly burdensome.
I think the concept and story are really strong. What worries me the most is the editing (or seeming lack thereof) of the script. New writers need to be dragged through a stringent process of editing to make their scripts performable. This script is still at the nursery school phase of development as far as I’m concerned.
So, despite gallant efforts at performance by all three actors, they were unable to lift the unwieldy and inconsistent script from the page. They also had a terribly awkward (and sterile) little set to play on. The hour long play was a little bit agonising and reminded me and G of the endless community theatre plays that end up on the Grahamstown fringe playing to audiences of six. (Big Friendly sat this one out. His very valid excuse was that he fell off a ladder and he is sore all over, making it hard for him to sit still for long. How clever is that?)
Now the whole thing about The Living is very complicated. And ultimately, I am sort of disappointed that Artscape has got it a bit (or even very) wrong. Obviously Artscape has an overwhelming responsibility to put on work by pdw (previously disadvantaged writers). Especially at Artscape, with its uncomfortable history and associations, there needs to be a huge effort to cultivate and support and grow new young black writers. But then they need to be cultivated and supported and grown a little more vigorously. Unfortunately, it is about more than just creating a space for this kind of work, the work itself needs to be explored and created. The standard of these new works needs to be higher. The quality of production needs to be better. And then people will be more inclined to come and see it.
There were 28 of us at yesterday evening’s show. On a Friday evening. And with all the great intentions in the world, and the slightly syrupy blurb that was put out about the show, it is one that I just can’t recommend. I don’t wash my hands off it though. There is potential there. There is a seed of something. It’s just not living yet.