This write-up took a bit longer than usual, because after seeing The Fall at the Baxter Theatre, I really wanted to be still and contemplate the portrayals of student voices that echoed onstage within the context of UCT #RhodesMustFall events. I had to clear my mind of the politics, the media filtered one-sided misrepresentation, and just allow myself to feel the impact of the power of theatre. The result is this…
Now I know that when attempting to write a good piece, one should avoid too may quotes, but here it serves a purpose as it captures the elements of theatre The Fall highlighted for me again. Three quotes about theatre resonated walking out of the media night performance:
“[A]n artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.”
– Dario Fo (Playwright)
“The theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.”
– Stella Adler (Actress)
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
- Alan Watts (Novelist)
There is undoubtedly a rhythm to The Fall… a movement, a dance. I sat there tapping my foot without even knowing it, feeling the expression, the movement, that the talented young cast bring to stage.
There is no denying that it is relevant, especially seeing as this production was workshopped by a cast who truly lived the events. It tells the truth about the social situations at the root of it all, not just of the uprising, but of the heart-breaking reality and struggles that continue to inspire the call for the decolonisation of institutions. Ultimately, it brings to stage the youth's call for the fall of all oppressive structures and reminders. But it does this with the honest reflection that one person’s truth may not necessarily be the truth of another. With this creation, the young cast shows maturity beyond their years. For that fact alone, they deserve full houses and standing ovations every night!
The Fall showcases multiple perspectives and experiences within and surrounding a moment in our history that the media and the public have simplified to one singular hashtag… #RhodesMustFall. The danger with simplification is you lose the nuances and the layers of reality. The Fall unravels and undoes this unwarranted propagation and popularisation, in exposing the realness of the people and emotions behind the headlines.
One of the moments in The Fall that truly moved me was when one of the student characters proclaimed, “we are angry because we can no longer breathe in this space”. Building on that revelation, they continued to share moving, honest tellings of how they are ignored and undervalued because of historic prejudices, instead of getting the opportunity to express their true potential. Revealing that they are tired of having to prove that they also deserve to be seen, to be heard… resulting in the development of the stance, “Nothing about us without us!”
What a powerful moment when the underpinning arguments to that refrain are so honestly exposed, as they lay heart and soul bare on the stage. In doing so, The Fall reveals that true wickedness thrives in prejudice based on generalisation. The crux of the production I found in the proclamation that any system that diminishes self-belief deserves to be questioned and judged. Is such critical question not the basis of democracy? As such, the voices on stage rise collectively as a call for the freedom to embrace self-empowerment.
Although all the performances in The Fall are strong and worthy of praise, one voice stood out for me. Sihle Mnqwazana as the medical student in the ‘story’ showed real depth and character development, as he exposed his fears, outrage, and later renewed grasp of humanity, all while still staying true to the context of the struggle. His honest and emotive portrayal of his character is the first that comes to mind when I recall stand-out moments.
The conversation within (and media night post-performance Q&A session around) The Fall highlights that maintaining the distinction between true struggle movement and unfocussed riot is not an easy task, and preserving (and in some instances regaining) humanity within such a context is a true test of purpose and creed.
As one student character revealed, the circumstantial burden resulting from the stance taken is not something a 22 year old is normally, or should even be, faced with. Per example she reflected on a split in student opinion as to whether medical students should have been allowed to complete their practical exams, keeping in mind that their absence in hospitals would lead to a loss of life and have an unintended long term socio-economic impact. The Fall also shows those nuances, the extremes between struggle and war, but also (and most importantly so) the unmedialised middle voice:
The one that isn’t extremist enough to make newspaper selling headlines.
The one that actually encapsulates the soul of the movement.
The one that deserves a platform and due consideration.
The one that should be heard before you judge.
The Fall is stimulating and provocative without being offensive. It is a theatrical catalyst for the much needed dialogue as counter to the shouting matches that seem to be dominating from all opposing and opinionated platforms:
“Seeing the students’ perspectives on various must fall issues and a couple of other discriminatory issues is really an eye opener. Their motivation was never reported on in the media – only the end result of their frustration. The Fall shows the motivation behind the scenes reported on. And with the current unrest at universities, the play is very relevant. Definitely a must see.”
– Charmaine van der Merwe (Theatre Lover)
As a theatre piece, it has haunted me in the best ways since seeing it. It has made me question before commenting on the current climate surrounding student protests. And in the end, that it the test of good theatre, if it makes you feel, if it challenges then it is worth seeing. I challenge everyone to leave their personal positions outside the theatre door, and just go experience the power of this talented troupe on stage in The Fall. Go join them in conversation.
Book your tickets for The Fall at Computicket. Run at the Baxter Theatre ends 29 October. Please also note there is an age restriction of 16.