A young woman sits chained to her chair, with a long noisy chain. The room is a quiet cacophony of cheap plastic wall clocks, some suspended from the ceiling, one serving as the lid of a dustbin. A gentle sense of the surreal is cast across the space as it is punctuated by a recording of a pianist playing Beethoven’s Für Elise. But as the lights open the scene, as the music fades and you look at the elements that constitute the set of this work and contemplate the work’s title: everything is revealed. Everything. Nothing is a surprise. The unfolding work, handled with a great deal of effort on the part of young performer Swankie Mafoko, contains an astonishing lack of nuance or sophistication as the notion of a young adult working for her living in an office is extrapolated. And sadly, the Beethoven is left to hangs arbitrarily and feels like an afterthought.
Nine to Fivers Anthem is the kind of work that begs and pleads loudly for the input of a more experienced eye or hand in its development. The language is riddled with easy cliché and the narrative, stripped clean of character development and of light and dark tone in its splaying of details, is earnest, yet skitters feebly around issues of job exploitation, the need to earn a living and the challenges one faces in the time one spends at the service of an organisation or individual who pays one’s salary. The material is bold, but lacks freshness.
Almost teetering into the realms of poetic development, the work contains refrains and repeated elements, which are not formulated with a sufficiently honed sense of rhythm and dynamic to enable the performer to sync with the sound and texture of the words she articulates. Almost resonating with the kind of harsh social critique which a writer like Jack Livings sculpts in his astonishing tales that gut Chinese communist society, such as The Crystal Sarcophagus and An Event At Horizon Trading Company, the heart of Nine to Fivers is in the right place.
But the work needs more time on its drawing board. And the performer’s skills are not stretched enough to reach you there in the audience.
- Nine to Fivers Anthem is written by Lotanang Makoti and directed by Mahlatsi Mokgonyana. It was performed by Swankie Mafoko, as part of an extended version of the So Solo festival, at the Nunnery at Wits University, on December 11 and 12