City Press review: Lockdown

2017-01-22 06:01

Johannesburg - Mzansi Magic’s breakout prison drama Lockdown has given South African television drama a much-needed gritty makeover. The all-female cast includes Dawn Thandeka King (Ma’Z), Zola Nombona (Monde), Lorcia Cooper (Tyson), Slindile Nodangala (Beauty) and Lindiwe Ndlovu (Sharon), and they’ve left us itching in anticipation as to what we can expect from the series.

Filmed at Constitutional Hill in Joburg, the fictional women’s correctional facility locks in a volatile combination of characters.

They range from the spirit-shattered celebrity-type Monde – whose shooting star burns out as she is arrested for drug possession – to Sergeant Sharon, who is seemingly dim witted and clumsy but scandalously cunning. Then there is Ma’Z, champion among the prisoners, who is as commandeering as she is loved and who awaits her release in 10 days. Rivalling Ma’Z is a gang leader and all-round thug. Tyson is an inmate who is guaranteed to make both men and women cower at even the thought of prison. Eagerly menacing and threatening, Tyson is a demanding prison princess in the most dangerous sense of the word. Nodangala ties the cast together with a ribbon and bow as Governor Beauty. Beauty runs the jail like a CEO, allowing no space for failure and making sure that this is clear to her wardens.

Prison as a setting for a drama is limited and can produce predictable plots, but Lockdown skillfully maintains its mystery by not making us wonder what will happen next, but how it will happen. The series offers hope of a unique, authentic and realistic story line. Clichéd plots involving star-crossed lovers, unexpected pregnancies and family rivalries are now hopefully a thing of the past.

Lockdown stays true to its themes by placing emphasis on the drug smuggling, sexual abuse, inmate violence, corruption and power struggles that are indeed a reality in South African prisons.

Unfortunately, the full potential of the series is held back by its primetime/family viewing slot, as well the limited length of the half-hour episodes. The producers are prohibited from exploring graphic imagery and themes, such as nudity and violence, which are experienced in real prisons. It unpacks complex relationships and issues, but can only take them so far.

The well-written script is also a refreshing fusion of isiZulu, Sesotho, isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English, and offers vivid portrayals of the characters’ mind-sets and emotions.

Working in a space opened up by Orange Is the New Black, Lockdown is nevertheless unique, more serious, trading in issues and storylines that affect South African women. It tears away the expected femininity of an all-female cast on a local TV drama. These women are individuals, grimy and hard-core, but also mothers, lovers, humans, often misunderstood. Mondays nights are just too far apart for our liking.

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