Holy Contract: Unholy alliances

At the Makukhanye art centre in Khayelitsha, Holy Contract is an amalgam of aesthetics complicating a simple story.

It’s dressed up all pretty with blue-lit fringed halos hanging from the rafters and puffy silver clouds and face paint (why?) and drifts of smoke but Holy Contract is a simple story, and perhaps simple stories are best told simply.

Played in a makeshift theatre wedged between cheek-by-jowl shacks in the bustling heart of Khayelitsha where braai stands, roadside mechanics and taverns crank out smoke, grease and boombox beats, Holy Contract tries hard to live up to its township authenticity but instead becomes an amalgam of competing and ill-interrogated aesthetics.

We’ve got a poetic script dealing with the township tale of hard and limited choices channeled through American soul-jazz poet musician Gil Scott-Heron on a set of seemingly ABBA-chic cast-offs-meets cold-pressed steel, dressed in homespun apocalyptic-punk, with a veil of African magic-realism thrown across the miscellany.

This could be pretty cool in a Brett Bailey-ish kinda way but actually, no. There’re too many competing messages going on. Too much smoke and no mirrors reflecting any one central theme back for us. It’s all a bit whoo-whoo.

To sum it up (spoiler alert), there’s the young man raised by his grandmother who died when he was 10. He falls in love with an amazing woman but gets involved in gang activity and thrown in chookie where he rails against his shit life. He gets released, reunites with his lover who dies in a shackfire. He then has to choose between the holy contract of god or the devil.

Solid story, easy narrative arc, with great performances by the cast, especially Thumeka ThongoLam Mzayiya who as the grandmother has the fewest lines but the greatest presence, one that befits the ancestors she represents.

But something might have got lost in translation between director Mandisi Sindo from Theatre4Change who has been making theatre accessible to the majority of Capetonians with limited access to formal venues for years, and Alfredo Brillembourg from the Venezuala/Zurich based Urban-Think Tank who appear to have recently flown in to include Makukhanye in their list of peripheral areas where “art, architecture and other socially-engaged disciplines meet” (programme notes).

National Arts Festival has also thrown their considerable technical heft behind Theatre4Change’s Makukhanye Art Room by looking to help them improve the hazardous venue. This time around they’ve sorted out the electrics with the plan being to focus on something else next year and so on until it can meet all the health and safety requirements to be an official venue. If that happens, this township spot could move beyond its present peripheral status and be a part of breaking down the old apartheid spatial planning divides by participating as a venue in numerous city cultural events, which would be kiff.

Holy Contract plays at Makukhanye at 3pm today and a shuttle to the venue is available. Makukhanye is not an official Cape Town Fringe venue (health and safety, remember) and so tickets are a R50 donation to Theatre4Change at the spot. It then moves onto the official programme at Guga S’Thebe on Tues and Wed and plays at City Hall for the rest of the fest.

Details and booking here.

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