A MAN STANDS on an otherwise empty stage. He wears pajama pants under a jacket, a children’s party hat on his head. And an expression of utter perplexity on his face. Thus begins Eva Mazza’s play Acceptance, an essay on the what ifs surrounding the tough monstrosity of contemporary filicide. It’s a moment of sheer haunting mystery which brings an element of poetry to an otherwise prosaic text.
Indeed, it’s not a moment that is capitalised on and grown in the texture and nub of this thematically important play. In 2014, a South African-born woman living in England suffocated her three young children to death. They were born with a degenerative condition called spinal muscular atrophy. She was ultimately acquitted on charges of manslaughter. It was a story that took the world by an emotional storm and it is upon this narrative and the dilemmas it confronts that Acceptance is hung.
Asking several pertinent questions and splaying issues of handicap and murder, psychiatric illness and culpability wide, the play is hampered by a lack of nuance both in its writing and performances. The production speaks of a youthful enthusiasm: its casualty is a lack of convincing gravitas. And in many ways, it needs to grow more on the proverbial drawing board.
Reading the work’s précis, you might expect to be juddered into the horror of the angry ghosts of children badly done by, or the horrible whirligig of emotions of a damaged woman overwhelmed with a situation she cannot handle, but instead you are confronted by fairly wooden performances and a too-clear line of narrative, which opens up the perspective of the voiceless as it pleads the case of the victims. There are moments that feel like a synchronised poetry recital, and others which are meant to be crushed by monumental stress, but lie preciously fallow.
The presiding judge in the original case (Jerry Mofokeng) is awoken out of the blue, late one night by an annoying young white man (Francois Viljoen) at his door. Is this the scene of a heist? It feels troublingly disrespectful. When the young man’s two sisters (Lea Viver and Lisa Darryn Overy) enter the space, you realise there’s something more at play here. The work unfolds with a guilelessness which is disappointing: it’s too chronological, too literal and it answers too many of the questions it poses.
As a result, this work, reeking of immense potential, is thwarted. Had the cast been older, more sophisticated in their ability to represent young children, to get under the skin of murdered people seeking justice, this work would have exploded values and made your head spin. Instead it feels like an advocacy drama.
- Acceptance is written by Eva Mazza and directed by Simona Mazza. Featuring design by Gavin Head (set construction) and Tara Senior (sound), it is performed by Jerry Mofokeng, Lisa Derryn Overy, Francois Viljoen and Lea Viver at The Fringe, Joburg Theatre, Braamfontein, until October 16. Call 0861 670 670 or visit www.joburgtheatre.com