top of page

SCENE IT: Falling down the spiral of the social media trap in EXPELLED

Barbara Loots


How Now Brown Cow Productions present their latest offering EXPELLED at the Baxter Theatre until 2 March 2024. The play by Rosalind Butler, is brought to life by actors Charmaine Weir-Smith, Antony Coleman and Nicolas Hattingh, under the guidance of director, Craig Freimond.

Described as a play about the power of social media to destroy lives in an instant, EXPELLED attempts to straggle the boundaries between drama and comedy in looking at one moment from the perspective of a privileged middle-class family trying to live the dream.

It introduces the audience to Alex (Hattingh), a Matric pupil at an elite private school, who gets caught up in a viral scandal and faces expulsion because of a bad judgment call which his mother (Weir-Smith) proclaims should not have the power to define her otherwise well-meaning child. Against the background of an insensitive viral video with which Alex is associated, his family is forced to confront the possibility that one moment in the life of an apparently empathetic teenager will cling to him like a bad smell for years to come… because the internet never forgets.

The parents at the side of the teen whose ‘momentary’ lapse of judgment sees him possibly becoming a pariah are two sides of the same coin, the what-will-the-people-say-coin: the father (Coleman) worrying about his standing in society while competing with the Joneses, and the mother going down the online spiral of constantly comparing her beige reality with the online packaged ‘happy reality’ showcased by others. 

In unpacking the fear of losing everything, EXPELLED reveals itself as a play heavy with themes, exploring everything from cancel culture, toxic masculinity, rape culture, victim shaming, peer pressure, unrealistic parental expectations, mollycoddling, digital anxiety, cultural elitism (the old-boys-club phenomenon), and that catch-all, FOMO. Towards the end, it becomes a bit like an assault of too many morally relevant messages, instead of allowing the audience the opportunity to digest one or two properly interrogated issues in an emotively balanced manner.

The play probably goes on for 15 minutes too long, losing some of the credibility it seeks to build up throughout, as one of the final videos revealed effectively lets off all involved in the familial meltdown just witnessed.

EXPELLED is very “now” in its references and may face the challenge of rapidly dating itself because of the digital timestamp it is built upon, but it is undoubtedly relevant in its messaging in the current setting: It will speak to a wide-ranging audience. As I left the theatre, one line stuck with me as very descriptive of the general tone explored by the play:

“Facebook, the symphony, meaningless in A minor.”

The timing of the play is not only generally relevant (as one rarely sees a teenager in the wild these days without a phone screen lighting up there face), but also because of the recent media bomb that dropped on Stellenbosch with the Wilgenhof scandal and the predictable reaction of the old-boys closing rank to defend their hallowed stomping ground by hurling accusations of over-exaggeration and people taking ‘pranks’ out of context in response to any criticism.

The set design by Kieran McGregor turns the stage into a framework that transforms living space into projectable canvas for an exploration of the mentioned topics through the lens of instant connectivity. This all is used to drive home the point that privacy in the modern day has become an almost mythical concept in our overshared, no-filter, driven culture that exists without consideration or accountability until it is too late. 

It is good to see families coming to the theatre as a unit to see EXPELLED, though it must be said that the play has an age restriction of 14, more so for the language than the actual content I suspect. EXPELLED runs at the Baxter Theatre until 2 March 2024, with tickets available online for booking through Webtickets.



bottom of page