A game of freedom

2008-08-05 00:00

The Game

Playhouse Drama Theatre

(South African Women’s

Arts Festival)

THE Game, the centrepiece of this year’s Women’s Arts Festival at the Playhouse, is a play with a message — unless people put their differences aside and work together, the future is going to be bleak.

Duma Ndlovu wrote The Game, and directs (about which there will be more in a moment). The scene is set in a maximum security women’s jail on the eve of the first democratic election in 1994 where a group of women inmates, all convicted of serious crimes, are bored, hopeless and pass the time with raunchy, graphic girl talk and squabbling. They range in age from a young woman who should have been in juvenile detention to an elderly gogo (the delightful Mary Twala).

Slowly their stories emerge. For most, poverty and abuse have driven them to crime — it is clear that they are the products of a sad and divided society and even where they attempt to reconstruct their lives, the system works against them. As we learn about them, humour and music lighten the atmosphere. Eventually, a warder enters and tells the women that, because of a pre-election amnesty, one of them will be released — but they have to choose which one. It is an unlikely scenario, but the women go along with it, and decide on a game of musical chairs — about the only game they can play in their desolate surroundings — to decide who will be set free.

The set is bare, with props of a row of chairs, a few blankets and a rack of clothes, which are used to act out the women’s back stories. The performers — Leleti Khumalo, Mary Twala, Cindi Dlathu, Lucia Mthiyane, Simphiwe Ngema, Londiwe Mthembu, Phumelephi Mthombeni, Jo-Anne Reyneke and Thandazile Soni — are all good, although once or twice there was a slight problem with audibility in the large space of the Drama Theatre.

The game and its outcome are both exciting and moving. I did feel that, in the style of their telling, the women’s stories were a little repetitive. The play is billed to run for just over an hour, but came in at over an hour and a half. When a director directs his or her own work, he or she is often reluctant to make cuts that could heighten the impact, and I would like to see the stories told a little more sharply. Once the characters start to play, things liven up — maybe they should have begun their game sooner.

Margaret von Klemperer

HOW TO BOOK

The Game runs at the Playhouse Drama Theatre until August 10. Performances: 7.30 pm Tuesday to Friday; 3 pm and 7.30 pm Saturday; and 3 pm Sunday. Tickets are R80 from Computicket (083 915 8000) or 031 369 9540/9596.

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