“I hope you feel uncomfortable…”

Walking away from the Galloway Theatre, with Full Stops on Your Face fresh in my mind, I see five young men approaching abreast, territorialising the Green Point promenade. I instantly put up my guard, put my ‘bitch-face’ on, plan how to avoid them. Don’t look vulnerable. ‘Luckily’ for me, another woman in leggings runs past me towards them. In sync, their heads turn to follow her figure. A smile shared between them.

Snap. Bang. My fury escalates tenfold as I realise just how impactful and important The Rust Co-Operative’s Full Stops on Your Face is. The ‘protect yourself’ mode feels instinctual but it’s learnt behaviour, developed over decades of living in SA. It disturbs me that there was ever reason to learn it in the first place.

Penny Youngleson writes and directs. Iman Isaacs pulls the performance punches. Be prepared to leave winded.

Isaacs’ nameless protagonist speaks of all the men who “whistle at women they don’t know”, of men who think they dictate our worthiness “just by noticing us”, of women telling other women how to “wear their self-respect”. Sexy outfits ask for it. “Fuck you!”

But the work is more than an indictment against the horrendous state of gender politics in South Africa. More than a call to arms against the undeviating violence against women.

She tells stories, stories that should be shocking, should rip open our humanity and make us scream. But we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? Murdered children. Raped children. Stolen children. Is it us news-watching armchair critics’ self-made helplessness which perpetuates the cycle, makes us turn two blind eyes?

Is the protagonist a direct victim in one of these stories? No. It would be easier to understand her rage, need for revenge, if it were ‘personal’. It is. Every time someone feels pain, is hurt for their sexuality, for their appearance, for control, for power – it’s personal.

Isaacs’ portrayal of the protagonist’s mother is understated and poignant. She just wants “my kleintjie” back. But violence has taken her daughter – not through murder, but through leaving her no choice but to join it, in order to beat it.

Difficult, uncomfortable questions are asked, as we’ve come to expect from the Rust Co-Operative team, Youngleson and Philip Rademeyer. Do we accept the state of the nation? Do we protest for popular political fads where suddenly “everyone’s got something to say” about the same piece of desert people have been killing each other over for generations. Do we allow our complicit, apathetic silence to empower the perpetrators of pain, here at home?

We should look to each other, to connect, to converse… but does your face reflect that you’re out of the conversation? Do you show question marks, exclamation marks, or full stops on your face?

If you have any interest in the future of South Africa, ensure you watch this work. Click here for production information.

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