Grahamstown review – Black and Blue transcends race

2014-07-05 10:51

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So much of our experience is played back to us through race-tinted glasses.

Black and Blue is the story of a white woman and a black man – their colours though are more incidental than instrumental as this “journey of grief” plays out.

During the City Press postproduction discussion at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, I felt the tears prick at the back of my eyes in a way they didn’t during the delightfully buoyant production.

It was while Sylvaine Strike was explaining how the piece had biographical roots in the story of her grandmother and the man who worked in her garden. He became her lifeline, just as Jackson (Atandwa Kani) is one for Mrs Swart (Sylvaine Strike).

The play is about two people who give something to each other – one gets a job, the other a reason to go out again, a reason to sow and then wait for the harvest.

With Strike’s signature style, this piece knits together words, mime, physical theatre and clowning to tell a universal story about connection – human connection, the thing that nurtures us all and without which we whither and die. Hence Strike’s garden analogy.

Later on in the discussion, Kani graciously took a comment from the gallery about the fact that he looks and acts like his father. He says his father, John Kani, was the first dramatic performance he ever saw and so that – both biologically and metaphorically – runs through his veins.

But I disagree with the comment – he is a singular performer and he holds his own and more on stage with a woman who has created her own style and who is the undisputed mistress of her art. The way both manipulate their bodies to add physicality to Jackson and Mrs Swart’s burgeoning relationship is a delight.

This is a reboot that stands the test of time – with the fresh eye of director James Cunningham to steer it into timelessness. It transcends race – a rare feat in South African theatre.

» The next City Press postproduction discussion takes place today at noon after Desire Under the Elms, and then after On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, a collaboration between Andrew Buckland and Strike, at 6pm. See the full details of our postproduction discussions here.

» To see when Black and Blue shows in Grahamstown, get the festival programme here.

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