To revive a 20-year-old show is no easy feat. And it’s even more difficult when you’re presenting one of the most well-known South African pieces by one of South Africa’s most iconic theatre makers.
And yet, this 2015 reliving of Barney Simon’s Born in the RSA did everything it needed to – bringing to life a difficult and complex time in the nation’s apartheid history, making characters which could resonate with a 21st century audience, and putting on a sincere, nuanced show, which will stand the test of time.
The story focuses on seven characters in the apartheid ecosystem, who are inextricably linked, and treated by the system differentially based on their race, gender and political beliefs.
From the suburban white couple, rocked by infidelity and the husband’s work as a police spy, to a strong black female activist, detained and treated like dirt by the apartheid police, there is a complex network of relationships which mean that all the characters are inextricably tied together, despite coming from very different walks of life.
The wisdom of the play’s director Thoko Ntshinga, who played the lead character Thenjiwe, in Simon’s first incarnation of the show, is what makes the elements come together so profoundly well.
With the 20/20 vision that apparently comes with hindsight, Ntshinga was able to recreate the tension, and rawness of the play, but (in the spirit of workshop and lived experience theatre), gave the actors the necessary space they needed to interpret the work in their own way, influenced by their own hindsight and experience. The actors didn’t watch any recordings of the original play, and Ntshinga was wary of trying to recreate her first experience.
“Casting Thenjiwe was the hardest, because I had to resist casting myself again. I am my only reference for the character, but this Thenjiwe needed to be herself, in this time and space,” shared Ntshinga in the post-performance discussion.
Despite some usual slips of the tongue, one missed note and the usual kinks of a first performance, the standing ovation and rigorous discussion that followed the play bore testament to its incredible quality.
Young and old, black and white audience members came to the play with different mindsets and responded to it differently, but overwhelmingly positively – and that’s all can be asked of a play. Overall, a resounding success, and definitely one to watch.
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