The Graveyard: A Punch in the Gut

Bo Petersen and Gideon Lombard perform in The Graveyard at the National Arts Festival. Photo credit: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala.
Bo Petersen and Gideon Lombard perform in The Graveyard at the National Arts Festival. Photo credit: CuePix/Aaliyah Tshabalala.

Philip Rademeyer’s latest work is the hard-hitting The Graveyard. Gideon Lombard plays our protagonist Tommy, Bo Petersen plays his mother, and Sarah Potter alternates between the characters of Tommy’s sister Emily, and his girlfriend Emma. Family secrets form the premise of the storyline, as do the detrimental effects of growing up in an abusive household.

As a critique on domestic violence and alcoholism and (often) the connection between the two, The Graveyard takes a merciless look into a family destroyed by an alcoholic, abusive father. The story is traumatic, and part of that trauma is that the story is neither unique or unusual.

So many questions come to the fore throughout the production, I’m left with a jumble of thoughts and emotions. The children appear to blame their mother for never leaving, although both maintain their father didn’t hurt them. They ask why she never ran away, why she didn’t fight back, why she didn’t send them away? We’re asked to think about genetics whilst Tommy considers DNA. Does who our parents are determine who we become – nature or nurture? This especially haunts Tommy as he most fears passing his genetics on to his future children; he’s already aware of his alcoholic and abusive tendencies.

But we’re shown that with him there was a decline, as seemingly was the case with his father. There is no attempt to defend or explain their actions, and most certainly the father is painted as an evil bastard. But the questions that linger are, what made him like that? The abuse had only begun well into their marriage and deteriorated in severity and recurrence as the years went on… was it the drinking? A disturbed childhood? As Tommy reflects: “he taught me to be a man. Instead of dealing with your shit … you unscrew another bottle of whisky.”

Certainly this approach is what has landed Tommy in the shit that he’s in. Precious masculinity has taken its toll.

The Graveyard is where the objects of the mother’s abuse were hidden. In our own ways we all have a graveyard of secrets, issues and hang-ups that linger within us, the place where we hide the broken fragments of ourselves. As Tommy repeats at points, “all things leave traces”.

And this takes us to an important part of the work, raising questions when Tommy (and Emily and their mom) say that “everyone knew”. Everyone knew what was going on, saw the black eyes, but did nothing, said nothing. We are all aware of the prevalence of child and domestic abuse, psychological and physical, so widespread across race and socio-economic lines in our country.

Whereas The Graveyard doesn’t state the ‘facts and stats’, in the family’s story emerges an honest reflection and raw examination of how people deal differently with the situation they’re dealt in life. But more so, how your life circumstances can shape who you become, maybe?

The Graveyard’s cast performs with superior skill, and as usual, Rademeyer has delivered a work that disturbs our complacency and is supreme in making audiences think about what’s urgently important in our world today.

– Sarah Roberson

The Graveyard is on daily at Prince Alice Hall at 14.30 (until the 09 July). Info & bookings here.

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