Scene It: Love the Baxter Theatre, Not loving Silent Voice

October 30, 2014

So, it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts on Silent Voice to make sure I give a fair reflection of what I experienced when seeing this play by Aubrey Sekhabi at the Baxter Theatre. Please note this is my experience, nothing more, nothing less.

Silent Voice is described as a “high octane armed heist thriller” that is “a gripping story of gangsters on the run after a botched robbery that turns into murder, with some meaningful and realistic commentary about life in modern-day South Africa”.

Honestly, this is not what I experienced… the meaningful commentary part that is. There was lots of running though!

Wait, maybe I should first give a full disclaimer. I tried to consider my views in a manner that puts aside the fact that I have lectured criminal and constitutional law and have also seen the impact of violent crimes on friends and family, as well as felt the resultant fear attach to my own life. Unfortunately, as with everyone and their own unique backgrounds, my objectivity is a myth.

So to try and be fair to the creatives who invested time and energy in bringing Silent Voice to “life” so to speak, I asked myself the following questions…

  • 1) Did I pick up a strong storyline (if any)? No, not really.

  • 2) Was there good character development? In my opinion, no.

  • 3) Could I pick up the deeper meaning that the blurb refers to? No, I either missed it completely or it was not there.

I think there are few people who would appreciate sitting in an audience (your safe space in the world of theatre escapism) with a gun pointed at their head, while someone screams "I am going to kill you!".

Personally I found Silent Voice an hour of violence that endorses stereotypes and does nothing to encourage an inclusive rather than exclusive societal perspective when dealing with people that come from different backgrounds and socio-economic circumstances than your own.

I found the last five minutes of the play (where the one character tried to justify his violent criminal life as “because of my childhood”) a cheap attempt at creating deeper meaning. The reference to police officers as basically just expendable bodies paid to die I also found extremely offensive in the current context where we hear daily of brave police officers and their families losing their lives. Such statements presented in a manner where becoming a criminal is almost packaged as a legitimate job choice is actually reckless given the problems our country faces.

If the purpose of the play was to anger or alienate the audience and create a sense that it is every man-and-woman for themselves to the extent that you feel that violence in any form can be justifiable because you somewhere somehow had a tough life, then perhaps the purpose of the play came across as it should. I personally prefer plays with a message that motivates people to rise above difficult circumstances and become a beacon of light rather than a weapon of destruction.

The fact that young (what looked like high school) kids found the violence comical, I found somewhat upsetting. Nothing about gangster violence should ever be seen as comical. Here I am not talking about nervous “I don’t know how to respond” juvenile laughter. I am talking about “I am sitting in a comedy club” type of laughter. Laughing off a problem is not a solution, it merely endorses ignorance.

To me Silent Voice proves that creative theatrical expression can go too far. Too much of a bad thing is just more of a bad thing. Presenting it in an overdose format doesn’t turn it into a message or a statement.

Actually, wait, there was one good thing about the play. The guy who did the live stage sound effects was honestly amazing. However I feel a little sad for the actors, as I think they are actually great performers, but I don’t think the scenes really showed off their true potential in any light that will encourage me to buy a ticket for future shows if this speaks to the type of roles they choose to accept.

Sadly Silent Voice is an hour of my life I will never get back and the negative effects of seeing it stayed with me for far too long thereafter. I don’t appreciate being dragged into such a violent negative situation, even if promoted as a thriller, and I am a gal who readily embraces Halloween and all the scary thriller things it brings. So scare me please, but don't traumatise me.

On a side note, I would advise anyone to go see #Rondomskrik next week at the Baxter, to see a powerful statement that encourages positive action as a response to a violent crime. I applaud Hennie van Greunen and creative team for the #UitKykAuntie movement that they have started as a result of it. That to me shows the power of theatre with a purpose.

Scene It by Barbara Loots.

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