- For the first time, Juliet Jenkin’s choral play, Woolworths was staged as an audio drama.
- Masked as satire, Woolworths is a 50-minute study of contemporary middle-class whiteness in South Africa.
- The most intriguing effect of the audio drama format, however, is the way it enables us to hear and endure these caricatures of South African whiteness, without ever seeing them.
Since its inception, Juliet Jenkin’s choral play, Woolworths, has been staged in venues across the country. This year’s Virtual National Arts Festival marks the play’s debut in its new format as an audio drama.
If you haven’t already heard of Woolworths, it’s a fast-paced 50-minute study of contemporary middle-class South African whiteness, cleverly masked as satire. A chorus of seven takes the form of Karens, Gregs, after-work golfers, SUV motorists, K-Way puffer enthusiasts, rhino-saving warriors, and just about every other kind of white stereotype encountered in SA.
With a significant part of Woolworths’ staged performance making use of the punchy choreography of its chorus, how does the play serve as an audio drama?
The script, which resists a coherent narrative, is swift and sharp – a series of biting, witty, cringe-worthy missives fired off in quick succession – and is peppered with pervasive verbal fragments:
‘Ja no, well, hey.’
‘This place is going to the dogs, I tell you.’
‘Don’t worry, they don’t bite.’
‘I fucking love rhinos.’
‘Uhm, sorry. Can I just…thank you!’
As a result, Woolworths translates seamlessly into an audio-only work. The chorus maintains a wonderful cadence, a collection of voices and personalities dancing around your head, sometimes screaming hysterically, and other times whispering and whining pitifully. Perhaps the most intriguing effect of the audio drama format, however, is the way it enables us to hear and endure these caricatures of South African whiteness, without ever seeing them.
The result is that amidst the chuckling and the flinching, Woolworths draws attention to the kind of whiteness that thrives on obscurity and hides in plain sight. In many cases, the privilege of being present, but not having to be all that visible (think gated communities, anonymous Twitter trolls, high-beamed SUVs with tinted windows etc) allows whiteness to avoid a certain accountability to itself and to others, as well as escape a general rootedness in reality. Here’s a deceptively simple scene from about halfway through the play:
“Sorry, excuse me, but your Landrover is parked on my head.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you now, because I’m not actually here. So ja, if you could, like, not look directly at me, that’d be awesome. If people could acknowledge me, but not actually look at me, if they could look at me through a screen, if they could flip through me in magazines…”
Woolworths takes the absurdity, the arrogance, the guilt, and the covert violence of everyday whiteness and hangs it out to dry in its razor-wired, jasmine-scented entirety. While the staged version of the play gives us a physical performance to hang these things on (and, possibly, leave them hanging there after we exit the theatre) the audio drama asks audiences to traverse a more nebulous, enduring psychological landscape, all while seated in the relative comfort (or discomfort) of one’s own home.
Listen to Woolworths here.
This article was originally published by The Critter