Township Stories ****1/2 (Royalty Theatre until Saturday, March 9, 2008)

March 1, 2008

This is a profoundly disturbing and unsettling production showcasing a grotesque view of life in South African townships.

This is not a documentary or opinion piece, there is no sermon in the script, this is instead a story about a serial killer wreaking havoc among people whose lives are already damaged enough.

We are painted a very bleak picture of life in a township in modern day South Africa. Poverty, ignorance, powerlessness, greed, fear, hopelessness and the impotence of public institutions such as law, health and eduction, prepare the canvas for this gruelling work.

There are strikingly Dickensian tones to this show, as we watch the unfortunate members of this abandoned strata of society collide with each other as they struggle to survive and find meaning in their lives.

We also witness graphic violence and sexual violence, without the theatrical nod and wink to the audience we usually receive from a Sweeney Todd or the respectful pause afforded to the passing of lives in a Les Miserables – this is gritty, real, fast, cold, unspectacular violence.

The acting takes a little adjusting to for Anglo-Saxon audiences. It seems, at one moment naive, at next perfectly embodied. Characters are drawn simply, boldly and powerfully, often conjuring an archetypal stature.

This is a difficult production to watch for those of us snugly ensconced in our safe, Western societies, where our fears can be held at bay with money, distractions and the knowledge that our institutions bluff most danger away. The eery part is that this show gives us a glimpse into how human beings can and do act when stripped of social and cultural restraints and expectations. We are looking at our own, carefully obscured underbelly. We also know that many people here in Australia suffer a similarly broken experience of life, in families of cross-generational unemployment and in remote indigenous communities. (If only our leaders like Kevin Foley and Mike Rann who are currently playing silly games hiding from parts of our media, and our editors of those nightly current affair television shows, would see this show, they would understand how fragile our democratic institutions are, and be reminded of the heavy responsibility they bear to keep them safe).

Soundscapes, lighting and set design excel, rounding off this show as an important and salutary “must see” during the Adelaide Festival 2008.

Read more or book tickets through the Festival Guide