PROTEST ERUPTS ONTO the stage with unmitigated fire and authenticity in this beautifully written, tightly constructed reflection on the student protests which rocked South Africa in 2015. The Fall encapsulates the ethos of an era and rises supreme in its focus to become universal in the values and energy it espouses. It is the Sarafina of this generation and is as much about student protest as it is about the anguish and complexity of what it means to be 22 in a contemporary world.
Focused on seven individuals and their plight and interface with the conjoined student protests, The Fall is satisfyingly choreographed and designed to allow each young voice to shine gloriously. While you may initially be convinced that these University of Cape Town students have been cast for their extraordinary voices, you will soon realise there’s much more going on here: they collaborate with mature ease; they act with fire in their bellies; they can move and they can articulate the multi-sided nature of the issues that so thornily populate the symbolism of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, as they address the myriad of other issues which rise in the wake of the #RhodesMustFall fervour.
In 2015, the presence of the statue of this arch-colonialist which stood prominently on UCT’s campus, reached a head amongst the students, and havoc broke out demanding the universities’ structures in this country be decolonised and the symbol in question be deposed. The revolts were articulate and fierce, and this cast, representing different stereotypical individuals, from the product of a privileged so-called “Model C” schooling, to the medical student who is supporting his family on his grant and the young person who doesn’t identify with a gender-specific binary, to the Coloured lesbian Muslim student complete with her keffiyeh are part of the fray and the diatribe.
Men and women, black and white, poor and rich, and everything in between these values all contribute to the melee of opinions cited and debated in this fiery and deeply engaging work which serve as a fabulous cipher to student voices, not shrinking from the use of contemporary jargon and slang. It doesn’t promise to make the situation go away or be resolved. It opens the boils and explores the pus within, in a way that forces you to see all sides of the issues.
The importance of a play of this nature cannot be understated, which is why there is a mystery surrounding its marketing for this short season which represents The Fall’s Gauteng debut, and the indictment rests on theatres in this province. Where are the students who should be filling this theatre to capacity? And filling the rest of the night with vociferous debate about issues that matter?
Admittedly, the State Theatre is not a friendly space. Indeed, it’s nothing short of a disgrace in terms of its hospitality. Not only is it architecturally a perplexing nightmare to negotiate, with absolutely no pretence of accommodation for people who may be handicapped – you have to walk what seems likes miles of passages, through doors which are locked and with the aid of a security guy who is impatient – but it also reeks of utter contradiction and unkempt focus. There’s a skanky restaurant in the front of the building that boasts tv-watching patrons in its darkened corners, jiving to loud piped music, fit to contradict everything the hallowed theatre implies.
There’s a security man who hangs around while you’re paying your parking ticket, who asks for the change ‘for bread’. And there’s another security guy who seems unsure what the Arena Theatre actually is, let alone where, in the parking lot you can find it. The venue, which still boasts some truly horrible art installations from the self-consciously conceptual 1980s, shriek, in entirety, for a decision maker to address it from top to toe; you’ve got to really want to see The Fall, and be willing to suffer all the ostensible indignities that you must, in order to get to the theatre to see it here.
Having said all of that, at least, one might say that the building isn’t completely derelict and at least someone is ensuring that theatre happens here in one of the establishment’s myriad venues. And once you’ve negotiated the bureaucracy and the security men, you will not be disappointed in the work which is as lucid and as furious as it should be.
- The Fall is written and performed by Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Kgomotso Khunoane, Tankiso Mamabolo, Thando Mangcu, Sizwesandile Mnisis, Sihle Mnqwazana and Cleo Raatus, facilitated by Clare Stopford. It features design by Patrick Curtis (set), Poleng Mabuya (lighting and audiovisual operation), Marisa Steenkamp (costume design)and performs until June 24 at the Arena Theatre, State Theatre complex, in Pretoria, part of the #YouthExpressionsFestival.