Scene It: When Swallows Cry, social commentary that packs a theatrical punch

February 8, 2018

When Swallows Cry, a new play by Mike van Graan, is a hard-hitting and moving production that highlights the harsh realities faced by migrants, refugees and those fighting for survival in war-torn countries. It tells of the struggles these wanderers face in their search for freedom and security. A thought-provoking must-see at the Baxter Theatre until 24 February 2018.


“Good art, whatever its style, has qualities of hardness, firmness, realism, clarity, detachment, justice, truth.” The essence of that "good art" definition as articulated by Iris Murdoch reverberates through your theatrical soul when you experience Van Graan’s When Swallows Cry. He has managed to capture all those qualities in this play, and he has done so with the necessary jaggedness a play about the suffering and violent realities associated with displacement demands. When one describes this production as hard-hitting, the description is both literal and figurative.


When Swallows Cry does not allow its audience to settle into a comfort zone before showcasing the realities that inform the social commentary at its core. The narrative greets you bluntly and with force, as it throws the misconception of a ‘universal truth’ at your feet with a gun to its head. The style of the narrative shrewdly mimics the brutal character of the three scenarios that it reveals as snapshots from across the world. In doing so, it questions the global community’s context-driven understanding of a ‘universal truth’ from three different perspectives. It questions the subjective justification to which that idea has been relegated, by highlighting the need for recognition of universal respect rather than subjectively informed 'justice' – a respect that protects and enhances human dignity and a right to (a) life that amounts to more than mere existence.

There is great power in what is exposed by such an honest approach to play-writing and staging. The aim of this production is not to first and foremost put the audience at ease, but rather to give them an opportunity to exprerience the uncomfortable reality so many face as they struggle to break free from the shackles of their circumstances. When a play reaches out to its audience so directly, at an emotional level, without needing to break the fourth wall, you can be assured that there is contemplation worthy power in the words spoken on stage.


Under the direction of Lesedi Job, the staccato type shifts between the unfolding of the three scenarios adds to the necessary bluntness of it all. Within this setting and approach – further aided with dramatic use of digital aids – Mbulelo Grootboom, Martin Kintu and Kai Luke Brümmer with great commitment also shifts through the emotions, prejudices and struggles of the three characters that they each portray.


When Swallows Cry is a thought-provoking theatre experience, which through its direct trilogy-driven approach packs a human interest punch without being preachy – in fact, it doesn’t need to be, because it poignantly reveals real life truths through the power of theatre. Book your tickets through Webtickets to see it at the Baxter Theatre before run ends 24 February 2018.


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