Burned by Ashes

The Mother in Ashes. Photo credit: Maggie Gericke

The Mother in Ashes. Photo credit: Maggie Gericke

It isn’t often I’m left teary after a show but I’m not too proud to say when it happens. Last night Ashes, written and directed by Philip Rademeyer, set me up by presenting a story of love and a family working through understanding having a homosexual son. This is an important show, I was thinking. Then they razed my comfort in watching “an important show” as it developed into a piercing, authentic and brutal blow to the heart.

Topically, Rust Co-Operative never shies away from pressing social issues, and Ashes follows suit, burning a searing hole into the fabric of twisted, discriminatory, superiority-complexed, heteronormative communities in South Africa.

A series of characters, all excellently embodied by Stefan Erasmus and Jason Jacobs, tell their seemingly disjointed stories. Their acting is high calibre: so distinct were the characterisations, it was hard to believe there weren’t six people on stage. Yet there was not a hint of caricaturing – a trap that this style of multi-character-playing can often fall into.

As the puzzle pieces fall together we learn of a boy’s childhood and the experiences that brought him to understand himself, his family, and the difficult society he lives in. It is Erasmus’ and Jacobs’ acting skill (no doubt carefully crafted by Rademeyer) that draw us so deeply into the mother’s care, the father’s despair, the gangster’s disgust, the bystander’s confused helplessness, and the two boyfriends’ true love for each other.

With a light touch, Rademeyer gives us a scathing critique on South Africa’s apathetic attitude towards homophobic hate crimes and seeks to understand how and why they happen. A woman says: “I was raised the Christian way … You can just see, you know … when they come mincing” and quotes her husband, “te veel fokken Ru Paul oppie TV”. And the gangster guy tells us about when they were kids: “there was one kid that was a moffie. Everyone knew he was a moffie. We teased him about it… But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t come play. Dan word jy mos ‘n man.”

What happens between childhood’s naïve innocence and adulthood’s decisive and fearful hate? As the father asks, “is hate learnt?” and how is it different to love… “is it not just blood flowing?”

Interlinked as social issues are, Ashes looks at how South Africa’s intricately unique situation determines our interpersonal relationships. Disrupting cultural norms and re-negotiating previously (still) delineated spaces and religious indoctrination’s harmful effects – all and more are subtly woven into the script, and with a touch of humour.

Ashes is unsettling and challenging; an impactful and important production. It will leave you bare and vulnerable – in the way the characters, those marginalized by being “submerged in straightness”, live their whole lives.

– Sarah Roberson

Click here for production information. Ashes is daily @ 19.30 @ Princess Alice Hall.

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