Lucy and me: Matshediso Mokoteli embraces the harrowing tale of Paul Noko’s ‘Fruit’ with wisdom and depth. Photograph by Andrew Brown.
A YOUNG girl quietly talks of life, the universe and everything to her plastic doll, with the kind of illogical quietude and gentle give-and-take that little children adopt when in conversation with their toys. Thus opens arguably one of the most powerful, well defined and ingenious plays that we in this city have been privileged to see, in a long time. Paul Noko’s Fruit brings together all the central principles of grand theatre in this low-budget, taut work, where the main grown-up protagonists are stones with faces drawn onto them, and an urban geography is cast by small cartons and pieces of community detritus.
But avocados will never be the same again. In a tour de force performance which recalls what Lara Foot did to the understanding of a cabbage leaf in Karoo Moose and what Lionel Newton and Andrew Buckland did to the understanding of a watermelon in The Well Being, 19-year-old performer Matshediso Mokoteli renders the humble avocado a repository of hope and violence, terrible cruelty and great loss.
As you take your seat in the audience, you are immediately and irrevocably plunged into the quirky chilling blend of fantasy and reality that unfolds in the whimsical portrayal of a community in an informal settlement. The characters are well developed and curious. Their interface is about the camaraderie that comes of living with scant resources, but also of being in the proverbial same boat as your neighbour. And the trajectory is an unstoppable one which you know will end with tears and horror, but you can’t look away.
There’s ugliness and drunkenness and loss and brokenness, but there’s also beauty and felicitation. And there’s a baby, who suffers the horrors of neglect, abandonment and abuse in the most harrowing context. But the whole trajectory of this baby’s life is relayed in a sing-song frankness, which not only embraces it with the kind of sophistication that doesn’t allow you to turn away even through accounts of incest and arson, but rather it mesmerises you to your moral core.
This is the kind of play which defines powerful storytelling in the least sensationalist and wisest way possible. In so doing, it soars above and beyond the notion of artifice, as it conveys the nub and texture of the horror yet joy of life in an indigent society. There is no romanticising of poverty here, no political grandstanding. The story is told as it happens, and this frank splaying of happenings makes it sing.
- Fruit is written and directed by Paul Noko. It is performed by Matshediso Mokoteli and was the winner of the Zabalaza Theatre Festival in Cape Town in 2015. It enjoyed a short season earlier this month at the Pop Arts Theatre, in Maboneng, downtown Johannesburg.