I watched Blood Orange almost 10 years ago (I think). I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to see it again. Craig Morris does no wrong in this poignant production, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Troy Blacklaws, and scripted for the stage by Blacklaws, Morris, and Greig Coetzee (who also directs).
It’s just a story about a little white boy, Gecko, growing up in apartheid South Africa, playing ‘war-war’ at primary school, fascinated with these strange things called girls, scared shitless by his scaremongering teachers, awkwardly manoeuvring through high school against the torrent of religiously-justified-hate-indoctrination, as he awakens to political awareness.
You know, all the good stuff that swirled together makes for a meaningful and captivating tale.
Combine this with Morris’ exceptional skill in physical theatre and mime, where every conceivable detail of a character is physicalised and vocalised, the stage might as well be filled with a cast of 10 – is the imagination-awakening power Morris holds in his characterisations.
Spiteful Ms Fish and terrified Mev. Spies. The Maniacal Visoog Vorster. And the sadistic army officer. We loathe them. Because they’re racist. Because they try to make children racist. Because they never questioned what (really) made them hateful and racist. And because Morris imbues these unbelievable people with the recognisable qualities and quirks that exist in the racists of today.
Through young Gecko’s naïve eyes we witness the world around him. He wants to be “a garden boy like Jonas” but is taught that that’s not a job for whites. Jonas is an old man, but the infantilising of a nation is entrenched from a young age to make for the most effective superiority complexes.
He speaks of farm murders and the “evil men on Robben Island” – no doubt overheard by the child and shared, because who questions their elders when you’re seven? Blood Orange shares a scary insight into the brainwashing and fear mongering that white South Africans underwent, the force that kept Apartheid strong.
But what resonates and keeps Blood Orange relevant, is that in our free and young democracy, ridiculous and dangerously similar ideologies still exist.
The ‘revenge’ civil war set to happen 20 odd years ago that suddenly saw Australia’s population increase. And had my school doing drills for imminent attacks which never came. But somehow we still have the Red October loonies infecting the fearful with nonsense about white genocide.
Blood Orange is relevant today because although so much has changed, so much has stayed the same. But you won’t be heading into a preachy history lesson. Coetzee and Morris are too skilled for that. You’ll “ag shame” at Gecko’s innocence but childish naughtiness, identify with his teenage heartbreak, and agonise with him as he faces a future that demands violence and hatred.
Tragicomic it is. You’ll laugh and feel. And be impressed. This is contemporary SA theatre at its best.
– Sarah Roberson
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