Steke: A few loose threads

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Steke has a promising start: playful and offbeat and quite quirky. The performers have talent. Saree van Coppenhagen and Boitumelo Mohutsioa won best female actresses at the inaugural Arts Incubator Trade Fair awards earlier this year. A fun camaraderie was set up between Sarie and Marie on stage and us in the crowd. “What are you knitting?” asks one jolly tannie. Holding her thick wool creation, dead pan, Sarie answers, “A winter G-string”. Funny. They’ve got great comic sense together and there’s much in Steke’s style and concept that has promise.

But.

Somewhere along the line, the move from slapstick and some satire into dark heaviness takes a few wrong turns.

This is not to say the creators haven’t thought it through. Most of the script is written from true-life stories they’ve gathered from women about objectification, sexualisation, homophobia, and abuse.

Steke – stitches… Literally, the stitches needed to put bodies back together, to heal physical wounds. Metaphorically, the interweaving of these stories to show our interconnectedness – and, also, our lack of it, but more on that later.

I can see they’re trying to make a bold statement. I see they’re trying to point out our complicity in society’s faults and flaws. To point out our general apathy (or fear), in taking no real action when others are vulnerable and being threatened. But a seasoned theatre goer knows these ploys and we see through them. A non-seasoned theatre goer can pick up on the lack of authenticity too when being manipulated into ‘feeling’ accountable for their lack of action.

Don’t pull tricks on us. Don’t darken the theatre and recite a graphically harrowing narrative of child abuse. We can handle the ‘story’ but theatre requires finding a theatrical way to reveal the subtext, to show the meaning and messages – without ‘telling’ us what’s happened. At least we need the appropriate build up in character development or narrative or style. Otherwise we’re completely jolted, and not in a good way. Surely that’s their intention, to shake us up. But instead we’re left disconnected – like listening to the violence-saturated news every hour – because we haven’t been given the chance to care about Charlotte… how can we be expected to be moved?

Or perhaps that was the aim? To highlight our lack of emotional investment in every horrifying story we hear?

I never want to discourage young theatre makers and actors from pushing the envelope, breaking boundaries and making bold choices. We need more theatre makers in the industry willing to not play it safe. It appears director Willem Esterhuyse is one of them… but in Steke a few easy choices – the “close your eyes”, the plant – undercut the effectiveness of the beginning setup and the good comic moments.

  • Steke has one last show at the Cape Town Fringe, tonight 28 September at 19.00. Click here for bookings and info.

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