Blue: Poor Theatre

Stella Dlangalala and Tyson Ngubeni perform in Blue. Photo credit: Cuepix/ Madeleine Chaput.

Stella Dlangalala and Tyson Ngubeni perform in Blue. Photo credit: Cuepix/ Madeleine Chaput.

On the chance that you don’t know… poor theatre is a thing (that makes for a tricksy headline). Jerzy Grotowski was a director and drama theorist who purported that theatre needn’t be a spectacle; the simpler, the better. The more honest and stripped of unnecessary features the characters and stage is, the more honest will be the connection to the audience.

A few (empty) beer crates, a scarf, a pair of trousers, and some awesomely jiving tunes is all it took to pull us into the state of South Africa. Oh ja, there were two wildly talented actors too.

Simona Mazza directs Tyson Ngubeni and Stella Dlangalala in Blue, a rather amusing look at the blue light brigade, greed and corruption, through the eyes of our country’s diverse people. Dlangalala and Ngubeni flit deftly between portraying retired policemen, an Uber driver, government officials, a windscreen washer, intersection vendor (and more), and brother and sister Bekhisizwe and Nomandla.

As the truth of these siblings’ story emerges we’re exposed to some harsh truths about SA politics. Set eight years in the future, the people look back on 2016, but try their best to circumvent telling the truth. Blue is staged with the technique of an invisible documentary crew interviewing the characters, tracking down the truth through each interview. It works really well to build intrigue and brings immediacy to connecting with the audience.

The blue light brigade is notoriously seen as being above the law. The ministers they transport and protect too. Mazza and team take them on and call them out. One character, Amirah Maharaj, a PA to a MP reassures the interviewers (and us) that “government takes care of people”. We’re heard that line so many times from parliament – when will it become true? She adds that she has to do her part to “make parliament”. Mutual back-scratching and nepotism is the name of the politics game.

The clever script jibes at our corrupt officials, those whose jobs are to protect and serve us. Particularly funny was one character’s comment on censorship: “the forecast is Hlaudi, with a chance of meatballs”. It’s funny and all too tragic at the same time, given the escalating controversies around the public broadcaster in Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s controlling grip. As Blue’s MP character says, “we can’t be seen in a bad light”. Well, propaganda can help with that.

This is all highly relevant at the National Arts Festival. Censorship doesn’t stop at gag orders in the newsroom. It filters through to all art (remember the Spear incident?) and if we remain complacent, one day the NAF programme will be filled with JZ tribute works.

Besides a small issue I had with rhythm – it felt a little flat at times – I think Blue is a great piece of significant theatre, well performed, well written, well directed and well thought out.

– Sarah Roberson

Blue is on tonight (03 July) at 19.30 at the Rehearsal Room. For bookings and more info click here.

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