I recently saw a production of “The Fall” in London at the Royal Court Theatre. This South African play not only warmed my heart but also jarred my consciousness.
It warmed my heart because it was performed by a group of young and talented South African writers and actors who had found their collective voices and channelled them into a production that was both powerful and meaningful. The issues that the play dealt with from their perspectives as students were dramatic, complex and compelling. Although it was written about conditions in today’s South Africa it also mirrored a time almost three decades earlier during the Apartheid era when performing plays abroad was one of the ways South Africa’s anti-apartheid message was taken to the world.
The most popular proponent of these plays was the South African playwright Athol Fugard who wrote a number of plays that allowed the world outside of South African to see inside a society that malevolently, legally and institutionally perpetuated a system of human degradation against a major portion of the population on a daily basis. Fugard’s plays showed how such a system harmed both the perpetuators as well as the victims in addition to how the human spirit can refuse to be cowed in spite of dire consequences and can win a certain kind of moral and ethical victory.
I remember in the eighties seeing a TV production of Fugard’s “Master Harold and The Boys” that was filmed and shown on New York’s public TV station. This production served as an inspiration for me to become interested in seeing theatre with messages filmed and broadcast to millions. Now that digital technology makes that possible internationally, we here at the Theatre Stream Channel are doing exactly that.
“The Fall” jarred my sensibilities because the issues raised in the play relating to the inclusion of the economic under-privileged into society, recognition of the poor, fairness and sensitivity were exactly the same issues that were being dealt with by black students on campuses throughout the USA when I was a university student during the civil rights era fifty years ago.
I’m sure most of us would like to think that as civilized humans we would have learned something from lessons of the past and moved on to be more inclusive and understanding as a world society. But on the other hand, after thousands of years as a collective people on this planet we are still allowing ourselves to be influenced by politicians to engage in the fruitless pastime of killing each other. The saddest thing is the reasons for the maltreatment and the waging of war against the weak seem look similar. Most often this happens when people refuse to recognize and respect others right of religious freedom or expression of their culture that some other group finds offensive or when one side decides there is the opportunity to take unfair economic advantage of the other. And the story always ends the same; the poor and the innocent die and lose mostly for the benefit of commerce and politicians who gain from the conflict.
In some ways the play recognises this human conundrum and made an excellent point -are the present conditions facing South Africans what Nelson Mandela really had in mind when he envisioned a free South Africa?
What also was especially interesting and identified was that within the student groups, ideas of equality, race and gender became points of discussion and contention that had to be dealt with.
It is extremely encouraging to see that voices of protest are still alive and well where there is injustice and that each new generation is willing to stand up and show that they have something valuable to contribute to their society through dramatic exposition. As a result they continue to recognize the power of the play to transform our hearts and minds.
It shows something that I think many western young people living in very ordered societies may not have considered. In some societies there is no social or economic system in place to provide a safety net for young people. As a result these people put their safety and sometimes their very lives on the line to ensure that they can have the right to live a decent life.
I could go on to say so many more good things about “The Fall”, but all I will say for now is it is a must see for the reason that not only it is educational, it is an example of what powerful theatre can do. It can get inside out heads and cause us to see the world in different way.