The Fugard Theatre is buzzing with excitement as couples and friends and groups and enthusiasts catch up over a glass of wine or a fresh pizza in the lobby. There is something extra special about being there for a play written by South Africa’s most significant and internationally acclaimed playwright – not to mention the eponym of the theatre itself – Athol Fugard.
The intimate Studio Theatre becomes the floor of a library in a small town in the Eastern Cape of Apartheid South Africa. The library is owned by a defiant white female, Frieda Joubert, enchantingly played by Liezel de Kock, who is lying with her lover, an ambitious coloured male, Errol Philander, remarkably brought to life by Marlo Minnaar. Straight from the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (where Fugard recently received the Kunste Onbeperk Lifetime Achievement Award for Theatre), de Kock and Minnaar are immediately captivating. The settings, perfectly imagined and crafted by Wolf Britz, who merges set elements and lighting most marvelously, and allows the action to seamlessly move from one scene to the next with no breakdown or change.
The low lighting and hushed voices remind us that in South Africa in 1966, Frieda and Errol’s relationship was a criminal offense, a contravention of the Immorality Act of 1927. However, tangled in the blankets on the floor, the couple talk about their hopes, fears, and dreams and there is absolutely nothing immoral about it. Concepts of freedom, choice, and happiness are approached from a subversive angle in the context of the setting. Their exposed bodies and raw conversation strip away law from love, and skin colour from an idea of morality. The audience is moved to reflect on the barbarity and inhumanity of apartheid and institutional racism, something Athol Fugard is undoubtedly the master at doing.
The stage is ringed with cameras, alluding to the two being spied upon. These cameras then become the means by which the couple are eventually caught by local police and arrested, with Andre Odendaal’s intimidating voice booming out over the audience. Playing out in real time with dissolving changes in scene and no shift of focus, this 1 hour performance absorbs and never lets up from start to finish – expertly aided by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and David Classen’s sounds. Excellently directed by the newly appointed Fugard Theatre Artistic Director, Greg Karvellas, Statements is a deeply moving, relatable love story that resonates with you long after you step out of the theatre.
The importance of staging pieces like this in the modern era cannot be overstated. Aside from the general truism that art (and therefore stories) allows us to build empathy for diverse viewpoints, Fugard’s diverse works in particular are a foundational font from which much of our modern theatre history relies heavily upon – the recent production of Kunene and the King is structurally very similar to many of Fugard’s iconic two-handers, for example. The history of Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona, as well as The Serpent Players, serve as an important standard to rally around in these divisive times. What was accomplished by these people, who firmly believed in what is good, and right, and just, hold lessons for all South Africans, young or old, of every race and creed. Eric Abraham and The Fugard Theatre has wowed us yet again by staging a South African classic that reminds us how recently it was that we lived in an unimaginable system.
Due to rave responses from audiences thus far, The Fugard Theatre have extended the powerful STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT to be performed Wednesday to Saturday until 26 October 2019 – and we suggest you make a night of it! Tickets are available on the Fugard Theatre website and at the box office.