The audience enters as atonal, unsettling music fills the space. On the stage, a young man sits on a neatly made bed, visibly agitated. He paces around the room, lies down in the foetal position, and promptly rolls off the other side of the bed. The man addresses his first, fevered words to an invisible apparition: He begs the ghostly presence to leave him be, and when that doesn’t work, threatens to stab her again, even though he’s definitely already killed her.
Mandla Mpanjukelwa’s Confessions is a shocking glimpse into the mind of a young gang member who seeks to justify his actions by explaining to the audience just how desperate his situation was before he and his friends discovered violent crime. KZ, played by Luke Buys, is in the grip of drug-induced delusions. Wracked with guilt, he pieces his story together as he sits under a spotlight with a glass of something and a cigarette never too far out of reach. This confessional aspect is, as one may have predicted based on the play’s title, the most effective and touching part of the production. Buys truly gets under KZ’s skin when he’s focused on the audience and deliberately laying out the hard reality many young South African job-seekers in forgotten, under-resourced communities find themselves facing. ‘Ek sê, matriek se p***, man!’ KZ exclaims, voicing his disdain for formal education and the uninviting prospect of performing a menial job in a supermarket despite having finished high school. ‘Module 1: How to Be Poor,’ he continues, before launching into a one-man re-enactment of the gang’s escalating criminal behaviour.
Perhaps this can be put down to opening day jitters, but it seemed that the lighting often let the performer down. Changes frequently happened too slowly or seemingly at the wrong time and out of sync with the music and action, and the production was, sadly, hampered by this clumsiness.
Buys’s ease with the movement aspect of the piece is impressive, especially during the fast-paced fight sequences, but the constant back-and-forth between frenetic movement, apparent drug-induced rantings, and sharp-minded soliloquy do make the piece feel unfocused at times. Confessions has something important to say about the state of things in this country, and it’s a shame that the play’s structure gets in the way of that at times. The short running time of approximately 45 minutes also contributes to this feeling, as the play leaves one with the impression of having seen a very promising first act instead of a finished product. Despite these problems of cohesion, which could certainly be fixed before future runs, this is a production worth seeing —in large part because of Buys’s energetic, truthful performance.
Confessions is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival and can be seen at Theatre Arts Admin on the 25th of September, and at Makukhanye Art Room on the 3rd, 4th, and 6th of October.