After a dark, ominous opening full of menacing footsteps and panicked scurrying, Juliet Jenkin’s ‘choral satire’ WOOLWORTHS immediately goes for the jugular —the jugular of those who shop at the Southern Suburbs’ favourite chain grocer and enjoy convincing themselves that their empty, consumerism-driven charity (‘Save the rhino!’) exempts them from any kind of introspection.
But it doesn’t end there. Not content with addressing just one aspect of the moneyed classes’ existence, the play goes after what feels like every aspect of their existence: their existential angst, their quasi-feminism, their class insecurity, their toxic masculinity, their blindness to socio-economic disparities, their searing sense of entitlement, their unbearably condescending attitude to their domestic employees … all in the space of an hour.
The play’s ambitious scope might, unsurprisingly, be its downfall. Instead of picking one or two aspects of middle-class existence to satirise thoroughly, the piece tries to take on practically every defect to be found on the façade of suburbia. The result is, at times, a jumble of chorused buzzwords and movement. The chorus seems rudderless —contrary to what one might expect, this dramatic device is not in service of any coherent narrative; instead, the chorus is apparently used to break up any semblance of narrative.
The occasional blackouts, during which we hear terrified breathing and abstract agonised sounds, are the show’s backbone and undisputed highlight. One could argue that this is because here, the chorus functions in a more impactful way —the players are simply used to more constructive, cohesive effect. These scenes provide an effortless illustration of white South Africa’s constant underlying terror of what’s lurking Out There beyond the alarm systems and electric fencing and attack dogs. The ensemble deliver strong performances throughout as the piece grapples with the absurdity of our hyper-consumerist culture and the scale of our collective attempts at planetary destruction, but by the end of the show, this reviewer couldn’t help but feel an insistent yearning for the comfort of a Woolworths microwave pudding —irrespective of whether or not that particular plastic-wrapped item contributed to rhino conservation.
WOOLWORTHS stars Wynand Ferreira, Alice de Beer, Alicia McCormick, Kaylee McIlroy, Francesco Nassimbeni, Tazmé Pillay, and Johann Vermaak, and will be showing at the Courtyard Playhouse until the 29th of February. Tickets are available from courtyardplayhouse-ct.co.za.