The social consciousness of South African Theatre

New theatre performance sheds light on societal ills.

Beyond aesthetics and the need to entertain, Theatre, and indeed Art, has always served as a tool for social change. Art is capable of provoking critical thinking and discussion among its audience, influencing them to eschew reprehensible behaviour, re-orient their mindsets away from socio-cultural biases and stereotypes, and reaffirm the value of humanity. Every now and then, Art seeks to challenge the status quo, showing both the oppressor and the oppressed the need and the ability to change from “what is” to “what should be”.

“Evil”, a one-man performance, is a play which focuses on the societal headache that is school bullying. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel “Ondskan” by Swedish writer Jan Guillou, adapted into a play by Benny Haag and translated by Jens Boutrup for use in South African theatre, it is a story of a boy named Erik, who is frequently subjected to physical abuse by his father in his early years, then heads off to high school and finds himself at the mercy of senior students who take to bullying as a sport. He is antagonised because of his tendency to disobey instructions, and he gives almost as good as he gets. He and his friend, Pierre, try to resist as much as they can, but the cycle of violence never really stops.

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Produced by South Africa’s National School of Arts located in Sandton, “Evil” has its solo performance delivered by Jaques Da Silva, who leaps on to tables, falls off beds and mimics characters as he attempts, successfully, to bring the story to life. Erik’s character does not always crown himself in glory, so the audience may not always feel sorry for him, but Da Silva’s role interpretation is excellent, and the emotions are palpable.

From “Sizwe Bansi Is Dead” to “Sarafina”, South Africans have always known how to tell stories via theatre, and while “Evil” is not indigenous to the country, it is no less relatable. School bullying is a worldwide menace, one that men and women across generations can relate to, and once again South Africans have used theatre as a vehicle to advance social consciousness.

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