Zombie-esque, all-in-black with stilted suffocated movements, CLOUT aims to “strip human beings of every layer and barrier”. The intention is to excavate the “buried hurt, anger, guilt, shame”, the unprocessed feelings. Sudden guttered laughter is blurted and repeated like the bitterest realization. You know it is the laugh of trauma.
In the opening, there is only one who is aware. “Can you see me?” he pulls at the others, at his own clothing. He pushes open an umbrella, lights flooding him, a sun on the rim of his umbrella, silhouetting his figure, shielding him from it all. It won’t be enough.
“Yes I was wearing a short dress, but I wasn’t asking for it.” This is a refrain familiar to every South African woman, every femme-presenting person. She delivers her soliloquy chin-in-hand. Cross-legged on a chair she confides in us. This soliloquy is also our programming: when victim-blaming is so prevalent, it becomes the default position before even venturing a grip on the narrative.
This story, this scene becomes more specific. But it is broad, broad enough to see yourself, your trauma and the trauma of others. This is the strength of this kind of theatre. Healing theatre, as the production is framed, can unlock some shit you may not be ready for.
It was almost 11 PM and she didn’t call her mom because she wanted her new love to think she was independent. She planned to explain it all when she got back home. Of course, the boy she trusted let go of her hand and was gone. Leaving her behind. Three men draw near. “On the ground with nothing in my mind but my mother”. Down, collapsed and bleeding, internals broken now, each one gets a chance, smelling of sweat, smoke, and hard liquor. “Why didn’t they kill me?” Rather that than living broken after. “I will never tell a soul in this kind of world”. So what are you reduced to but silence?
“You didn’t believe me” it’s repeated but by the third sentence she can barely get through the words. Radio-active sound is all we hear. Fittingly, that laughter comes in again, but now it’s grounding. That first jarring and disembodied motif of laughter. We know the reasons: you won’t believe me, if you do then it’s my fault, and you don’t want to hurt those who love him, can’t do it to his family – all the permutations of silence. No matter the specifics, you’re bound to the stilte.
We see a wife sweeping the floor and a drunk husband entering the house, dancing, rambling. In his body and his voice, there is that loaded unpredictable buoyancy which lives in violent, intoxicated men. He sways on the cusp of havoc throughout their dialogue. How quickly a simple “How was the meeting?” is met with a “Voetsek” as he grabs at her. We see the hazard on the horizon before it happens.
We see our mothers, our grandmothers, our fathers, our grandfathers, our partners. It shouldn’t be that easy to see our lives and lineages in these scenes. Of course, this scene does not end there. Done with being treated this way, she is about to walk out. She has packed her bag and hands him divorce papers, which he won’t sign. This is when he assaults her.
How hard they make it for us to walk away, that is if we get to walk away alive at all. It brings back #AmINext, #MenAreTrash, #MeToo. All the hashtags. But also the personal. The traumas. The predators you may try to forget. The victims who are obituaries now. Yes, there’s healing and processing but Healing Theatre should also come with a trigger warning – so if you haven’t seen this kind of theatre before, here it is: The scenes are quite literal. They become personal, fast. This, I realize, is the point. If you know this kind of trauma, my suggestion is that you don’t watch it alone, consider watching it with someone you trust will hold you afterwards.
As the assault (beating, rape or femicide as you read it) becomes a tableau, a girl comes into the scene. She poses in front of it and takes a selfie with the assault happening behind her saying ‘#CLOUT’. In the background, some people shout for help. She keeps scrolling, posing, getting the angles right. The performativity of twitter activism is laid bare here. Living for social media not ourselves. The deadened inaction of posting, the futility and the self-grandeur. Our own acts of curating and self-curating for an audience cannot be ignored. The reality of yes, this is the way we receive our news, but it’s also the way we look past abuse IRL as a society.
“The first time I attempted to end my life I was nine”. It’s a black screen holding these words. We return to the self-aware man in a world full of people going through the motions. He’s alone this time. There’s silence spotlighting one moving figure. For a moment, I wonder, is this a technical difficulty? But then a sudden burst of strings falls in step with him. It’s deliberate. We cannot hear him over the violins. He is speaking, moving. They are drowning him out. And it is deliberate because that is how it happens. A few words manage to surface above the music: “wake up to water my body”. “But the truth is I died a long time ago.”
“Do it,” they chant while others counter-chant “don’t do it”. A bit on the nose, these are often the voices in the heads of those who know this struggle. Unmoving now, horizontal now, his jersey is placed over his body. His umbrella is closed, no longer needed to shield him from the intolerable sun demanding another day. It is placed beside his body. And beside him, the ensuing grief in pointed choreography shows the frenetic comforting patting. The bereaved takes his jersey, puts it on and lies next to him.
That is also how we grieve. We die with those who die. We see our own list of names. We remember those that this beast of depression and trauma has taken. And is taking. We stare our own struggle in the eye.
“Hide those scars, lose that weight, man up, cover up, beauty is pain, suck it in,” the clout gods say. They are the ones who know you beyond your Instagram pictures “I am your god”. Invited to look upon what owns us, we see it is capitalism. “The rich get richer,” they snicker, “and we know what happens to the poor.” The god of clout, the god of money, the god of image, is capitalism.
The Purge is played out in red light, where all crime is legal for a window of time. All violence and debauchery allowed with impunity. Uncanny that The Purge seems like South Africa all the time.
This is a young production, the cast in their early to mid twenties summoning their healing, confronting their traumas, demanding progress. They are brave. And they facilitate you filling in your own traumas, your losses, your life, your struggles, your overcomings, your undoings. They have done this through theatre. For some, we have methods and support structures to return to when the curtain falls. For those who do not, you are not alone. This performance art exists because you are not alone.
The psychological toll on the cast who relived their own traumas through different characters in the production:
Thembani Buka, Ludumo Mgobo, Anele Cele, Mandisa Kona, Athandwa Dyantyi, Abonga Zingela, Mbalentle Mpotulo, Rethabile Mphatsoe, Christelle Futshane, and writer/director Ziphelele Losi.
Thank you for returning us to what we want to forget, but can’t. For channeling their own trauma, for a bigger healing. For this production to exist is to be commended. Self-care as a suggestion is an empty platitude. I genuinely hope the cast is ok having channeled what they have.
Watch CLOUT on the National Arts Festival Fringe here.
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