In Future Line Arts Academy’s The Playroom, written and directed by Thandolwethu Mzembe, we are introduced to a number of residents at a local psychiatric institution.
One man has regressed to a child-like state and sits on the floor playing with toy cars. Another believes he’s a doctor and spends his hours furiously scribbling in a chart. A woman who can’t hide her impatience with her fellow inmates plays a lonely game of chess. These three are soon joined by their psychiatrist and a new patient doing her best to resist. The group’s decidedly peculiar personalities stand out in harsh relief against the stark white interior of the hospital activities’ room, where the seconds tick by interminably (and loudly, thanks to the sound design) and time ceases to have any meaning.
Babalwa Makwetu, Thembekilwe Komani, Luleka Ngcenge, Yanga Mkonto, and Lubalo Nontwana perform with a great deal of energy and commitment, completely immersing themselves in the world of the institutionalised (and those in charge of their care). Long silences are punctuated by moments of utter chaos as a patient is set off by some or other seemingly trivial occurrence. The audience witnesses some impressive acrobatics as actors jump on to and over furniture in their frenzied episodes, and one cannot help but be touched by the plight of the poor souls locked away in this grim institution.
Once the psychiatrist starts prodding his patients to talk about why they’ve been institutionalised, however, the exposition-heavy dialogue forces the play firmly and irrevocably into the melodrama category. This is a shame, as the piece certainly had the potential to make some valid points about the abuses routinely suffered by those who find themselves at the mercy of this country’s mental health system.
The Playroom is part of the Cape Town Fringe Festival and can be seen on the 2nd of October at Theatre Arts Admin.