Advocacy Theatre

How to break a cycle of terror


ME and myself, covering trauma with base: Natasha Sutherland, the older Tracy Going on the left; Jessica Wolhuter, Tracy in a younger iteration. Photograph courtesy Auto and General Theatre on the Square.

EVERYONE KNEW HER face. Everyone. When SABC anchor Tracy Going was brutally beaten by her boyfriend, it was knowledge instantly in the public domain. This was a story that rocked South Africa, not only for its grotesquely sensationalist value, but it opened up a whole hornet’s nest of abuse awareness in this society. Brutal Legacy is a play based on Going’s memoirs. It’s a work bursting with narrative cues, the to and fro of the memory of trauma and a credibility that will take your breath away. Above all, it’s couched in fact so close to the bone it makes your skin prickle.

Featuring language which is at once witty and scary, descriptive and brutal, the piece is difficult to watch because of its subject matter, but it is more difficult to turn away from, for the same reason. It is magnificently constructed and may make you think of works such as Tony Miyambo’s Cenotaph of Dan wa Moriri or Jennie Reznek’s I Turned Away And She Was Gone in how the story repeats and criss-crosses time, working with the ether of memory and against its rough and oft treacherous edges. It may also make you think of the horror which Alison Botha faced when she was raped and disembowelled by assailants in Port Elizabeth.

Going’s father used to get drunk and then beat up her mother. She vowed as a young girl never to be beaten like that, but fell into the arms (and fists) of a man not too different in his psychopathies to her father. But this work transcends the basic retelling of a classic story of cyclic abuse. It’s not a news story or a blatant advocacy drama.  Indeed, featuring an older Tracy (Natasha Sutherland) opposite a younger one (Jessica Wolhuter), with Charlie Bouguenon as the perpetrator, the play takes you along archetypal routes, forcing the self to come up against the self, irrevocably. It makes you think how you would converse with your younger self over memories and horror.

But it is the touches of design, the bits of magic in the work that give it spark and sear it into your heart. There is a play of shadow, an understanding of the topsy-turvy grit that happens in the face of abuse from a man you deemed your soulmate, with a set that is conventional yet surreal at the same time.

Above all, the whole monster of a story is contained with a sense of deep wisdom, framed in the turquoise tinctured photographic chemicals of nostalgia and real photographic snaps of Going and her family. It’s a yarn which spills like blood or vomit into the interstices of a society that sees myriads of loved ones being brutalised and killed by people who they loved most of all, as it offers a chilling glance at the boys’ club mentality that was traditionally patronising to a woman who had the guts to stand up to the situation. It tears open the underbelly of a sense of normalcy which shoves the devils in the cupboard and pretends they don’t exist, as it presents South Africa in the 1970s when Going was a child with dreams, as it reflects on the grit and texture of the town of Brits, from which she originated.

This is a work that needs to be seen, not only on the stages of a theatre in Sandton, but in schools and environments where realities like this are secreted away behind closed doors and milky lace curtains. And where young women are brutalised body and soul, and left voiceless.

  • Brutal Legacy is inspired by Tracy Going’s memoirs and adapted for stage by Natasha Sutherland. Directed by Lesedi Job, it features creative input by Hlomohang Mothetho (lighting), Lungile Cindi (set), Esmeralda Bihl (assistant to the director) and Julia Burnham (fight choreography) and is performed by Charlie Bouguenon, Natasha Sutherland and Jessica Wolhuter at Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until April 27. Call 011 883-8606.

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