Khayalethu Anthony wrote and plays in The Champion.
The protagonist in The Champion is not a nice guy. Yet Khayalethu Anthony, who wrote the script and acts as Thulani in this hard-hitting one-hander, is able to make us root for him. Our sympathy for the character is invoked despite even his misogyny at a time we have moved beyond outrage at the daily, nay, hourly, rape and murder of women to a desperate fatigue.
It’s a dangerous path his words carve, but a necessary trail to understand what drives the utterly unacceptable levels of violence in our society.
The Champion won the Zabalaza Festival best production award back in 2014, and justifiably so, the excellence of the script is its lack of easy answers or simple solutions. Khayalethu, as fired up with nervous energy as a boxer entering the ring for a title bout, takes us on a circular journey from a disheveled morning-after littered with signs of violence, back through his boyhood and the many abuses and betrayals, both small and large, that eroded his emotional landscape and led him to the precipice on which he teeters before us.
Played in the Makukhanye Art Room beating in the arrhythmatic heart of Khayelitsha where thousands of similar tragic stories are being lived within and without the beaten corrugated iron and plywood shacks, Khayalethu dares us to make the effort to look beyond our outrage and fatigue over the incessant beating, raping and murdering of women, and consider what drives men to be such beasts.
While his script has been published with the assistance of The Baxter Theatre to take its rightful place on the shelf of contemporary South African plays, Khayalethu’s delivery could be refined. Make no mistake, he takes us along for the ride, he is so close to the story, a hair’s breadth away from being Thulani himself. So close he seems to be running to stay ahead of his own words lest their tragedy catch him. But as in reality where he can relax into the good fortune of having experienced a loving, nurturing home despite an absent father, on stage he can slow down, let Thulani catch up so that the story can sink in.
If director Khayalethu Mofu could ease him into trusting the power packed in the muscle of his text, and strip back some of the stage design clutter, the devastating punch to the gut ending could become an upper cut knockout.
The Champion is part of the Cape Town Fringe and plays at the Makukhanye Art Room again on Thursday 28 September, then at the Alexander Bar from 6 – 8 October. Click here to book.