Three cheers for the Champ

Where are the audiences? This is the 5th show I’ve attended with less than 20 people in the crowd. The Champion had 10. And it was a free show. Irrespective, it received a standing ovation.

I was sceptical at first… another show out of my comfort zone. But within two minutes, I was sold.

The production relies heavily on storytelling, performed by Naledi Award winner Khayalethu Anthony. There are a few moments that are ‘overwritten’ for my liking. Stories are often more powerful when something’s not told.

But Anthony’s performance is so invested and accessible, we ride along, taking in every detail. He plays Thulani, now a young man, reflecting on his upbringing in Khayalitsha, and his troubled (non)relationship with his mother.

Issues around motherhood, the nuclear family, morality, fidelity are explored. We see young Thulani, unaware of the domestic troubles around him, yet he senses the tension and leaves the adults alone. His mother, with three children from different fathers, is now unfaithful to Thulani’s stepfather Michael. They argue over who is giving her lifts each night in the red Toyota Corolla. Thulani asks, “How can a transport thing make Bra Mike so angry?” It’s just one of many subtle details that reveal the child’s innocence, setting us up for an inevitable hard fall.

It’s tragic. Violence begets violence. Fatherless, Thulani comes to admire Bra Mike, a champion boxer. Domestic violence is a product of their dismal social situation. Does the cycle continue? Or can Thulani make the change? A mother’s love may be all he needs…

Life isn’t as simple as that, though. He questions his manhood; his Xhosa culture requires he has a clan name. He knows he’s a bastard and suffers great humiliation, thinking the community judges him for this. Perhaps they do.

The power is in the story so I won’t give anything more away here. Khayalethu Anthony has written a poignant, painstaking work, presenting unique perspectives on certain topics: the role of the mother, retribution, breadline poverty. Debate will surely be stirred.

Directed by Khayalethu Mofu, The Champion is an important work. As Thulani says, “My story is just one that falls under the long list of thousands of stories like this”.

If you’re in need of a shakeup, go see The Champion. – Sarah Roberson

Click here for production info.

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