Seeing Red: Taking on the Taboo

Seeing Red is a forceful fringe work, directed by Mmatumisang Motsisi. Image supplied.

Lady business. On the rag. Crimson Tide. Moon time.

Talking about periods has been taboo since the dawn of time. It still is. The only time I’ve witnessed any man bring up the subject is when I’m speaking out about [insert any issue in the world] and if my tone raises one iota above subservience… “it’s obviously that time of the month”, he’ll say in a [insert all the patriarchal things] way.

But let a woman raise the topic? You’ll witness jaw-dropped disdain or sheepish eyes scanning the room for an exit. The people scared of a bloody panty are the same ones demanding offspring from the very same source. And of course it’s not about the blood (mostly); it’s about ownership of womxn’s bodies, about exerting control over a process as natural and unstoppable as pees and poos.

You still reading?

Seeing Red, a student work from the Rhodes University Drama Department (or UCKAR seeing as we’re discussing what makes people uncomfortable)… is talking about it. Loudly.

Together with a seriously strong ensemble of seven women, MA director Mmatumisang Motsisi creates a fictional world, a rural African village where the men are in charge, they go hunting whilst the women tend to the homestead. Fictional, but it holds a mirror to modern life anywhere in the world.

In the village, women are exiled during their menstruation. In Nepal this year a young woman (not the first) died in her ‘menstruation hut’. Although the country has criminalised the practice, it prevails in certain communities as Hindu religious custom dictates that ‘unclean’ women must be isolated.

In Seeing Red, verses from Leviticus are rousingly recited. I’m not au fait with the good book but I believe that enlightened section goes on about impurity and contamination and burning everything a woman touches with hellfire brought forth from a mighty dragon’s nostrils – something like that.

Closer to home, our schoolgirls are absent from class once a month because they don’t have access to (read: can’t afford) women’s health products i.e. pads and tampons (would be great if we could get each women a moon cup… but one thing at a time).

Seeing Red’s cast does an excellent job. They operate primarily as a chorus, with performers taking turns to play the main role of Matla – this stylistic choice is very effective in communicating that what happens to one happens to all. A particularly poignant portrayal happens when the chorus transforms into the village men who don balaclavas and communicate in primal animalistic noises – it’s in their violence towards Kgosigadi, and in their sexualised discussion of Matla becoming a woman… that we cannot see a difference in their way of being. It’s disturbing.

A few moments felt overstated, such as the ‘spoken word’ scene when we hear about unreported rapes – it aims for the head when until now the work aims for the heart. And I’m not sold on the ‘battle’ with the men as this plays out too literally. Lastly, a nip and tuck on the drawn out scenes of Matla’s exile and return will maintain the great rhythm and pace established until then.

Mention must be made of the lighting design which plays a significant role in guiding our mood from scene to scene. And the cast’s powerful singing deserves a note too. Seeing Red is well crafted and forceful, and an important work which needs seeing.

Seeing Red is on tonight (29.06) at 21.30 & tomorrow (30.06) at 19.00. Click here for more information & bookings.

Director: Mmatumisang Motsisi
Choreographer: Rafé Green
Performers: Noluthando Sibisi, Noluvuyo Magagula, Nompumelelo Kubheka, Pamela Dyantyi, Upile Bongco, Yolanda Soji, Siyabulela Javu
Musical Direction: Ashwin May
Stage Manager: Manoko Tlhako

2 thoughts on “Seeing Red: Taking on the Taboo

  1. Sarah, your reviews are always worth reading. Thanks to the critters hereabouts for holding the noble flag. On the topic of this review: today I stood in front of Penny Siopis’s beautifully confrontational / confrontationally beautiful tapestry entitled ‘Shame’. It is just one of many astounding works in the Ubuntu exhibition at the Monument in the formerly skanky but now suave venue previously reserved for the Young Artist. #menstruationisart

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