The venue was a code red on Rocco’s wire. All sorts of things were fucking out – lights, sounds, electricals, and director Kirsten Harris at wit’s end graciously warning that the performers in Born Naked might be dancing in the dark.
Being prepped for a technical disaster worked well as a prep for the show, as we wander round the front of the scaf to be assaulted by a blinding concoction of glitter burning an array of colours on our retinas, a blaring disco dance floor hit and a magnificent figure in a bodice of mirrors shimmering its arse at us before the music is arbitrarily cut.
With dramatic disdain, our black beauty strikes a pose and kaks out ‘tech’ up there behind us. There was a moment of ‘oh, so this is what Kirsten was talking about’ before making out that it’s part of the intro and it was actually ‘oh, nice’. Metatheatre. Very European. In fact the trans aspirations displayed in this work performed by two promising young graduates were very European. Which, because I can claim no intimate or inner knowledge of the trans community, was interesting, perhaps educational. Questions need to be asked.
A fantastically surreal moment when a statuesque enchantment in earrings, chiskop, golden butterfly corset, and full-length satin wraparound skirt enters from behind and joins the dance before disappearing as our vision in sequins continues to shimmy, prance, lip synch and vogue around the two feather boa-ed glitter bedecked dressing tables as she introduces herself as Blaq Widow – with a Q. Snap!
Our flesh and blood statue re-enters expressing sympathy for the chair Blaq Widow was caught grinding on to the hip-thrusting beat of Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special.
And here is where the story begins. How an older trans gendering Queen Bling met the young and confused Blaq Widow, became her drag mother and how they fucked things up.
But this is not all corsets and lipstick. Queen Bling, played by Market Theatre Lab graduate Lethabo Bereng who never loses his poise, is based on the tragedy of Thapelo Makhutle from Kuruman. After a brief argument at a tavern, Makhutle was found beheaded in his tiny room the next morning. His genitals had been hacked off and stuffed into his mouth.
Herein lies the activist nature of the work, which it’s Beaula glitz belies. But if the aim is to evoke empathy, to get under the skin, of gay, transsexual and transgender people, it falls short in that the defences of the poise, pose, and strut remain intact. Particularly in Lethabo’s character. There are two brief moments of vulnerability but they are not enough to let us in. The very characteristics used to define our characters are those used to create the exclusive clique in which they can feel safe in a murderously hostile world.
Less so for recent Rhodes graudate Jake Nathane, who as the young debutante is regularly on the receiving end of Queen Bling’s cutting wit and so lets us see beneath her drag veneer.
The glitz and glamour and well-played metatheatre could work as wonderful cover for a sucker punch but the work’s potential to kick us where it really hurts is lost in its ending, which was told, not performed. The impressive blood red wings and the national flag skirt a sudden shortcut leaving us in the dark. Not the wiring.
But with Kirsten at the helm and the promise portrayed in these young actor – especially Jake Nathane – it’ll become well Lit.
Born Naked is at St. Andrew’s Hall on Monday at 15:00 and Tuesday at 17:30. You should go see it. Book HERE.
Writer: Stephen Kotze
Director: Kirsten Harris
Performers: Jake Nathane and Lethabo Bereng
Produced by Hijinks Theater and ZikkaZimba Productions