By BRUCE DENNILL
Green Man Flashing / Directed by Malcolm Purkey / Auto & General Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg 7
Playwright Mike Van Graan’s play Green Man Flashing is 14 years old now, and its subject matter is no less relevant than it was in 2004, nor indeed in the year in which the action is set – 1999, just weeks before South Africa’s second democratic elections.
This is a further confirmation of the quality of the script (about the layered ethical, emotional and emotional challenges faced by a small group of individuals after a powerful politician rapes a woman), which proved horribly on point when the play was first staged in terms of the news cycle at that time. It is also a grim reminder that in the nearly two decades that have passed since the year in which the story is set, the progress that has been made in the area of placing dignity and kindness above political expediency and reputation is essentially negligible – a sour indictment on a profoundly flawed system.
The way in which the play is structured cleverly staggers the moments in which key aspects of the story are revealed, mixing flashback sequences with traditional dialogue-driven storytelling. The relationships between the characters are unpacked at a pace that allows the audience to form and then possibly change – sometimes more than once – opinions about them; both their significance in terms of the narrative and the potential to like or respect them as they show their true colours.
They are fine, thoughtful characters to be able to play: Aaron Matshoba (Litha Bam), a dedicated party fix-it man who has enough of a conscience to make his job tricky; his ex-wife Gabby Anderson (Michelle Douglas), a personal assistant to a respected politician; Anna Richards (Kate Liquorish), Gabby’s best friend and a high-powered lawyer; Luthando Nyaka (Sechaba Morojele), a security heavy who accompanies Matshoba; and Inspector Abrahams (David Dennis), an unassuming policeman called in when matters get a little sticky.
What is curious – and not a little frustrating – is that there is a general air of hyper-reality to the way this production is staged. It’s not uniform, but there are moments when the dialogue is unnaturally crisp; a prepared speech rather than the ordinary banter of friends and colleagues (or enemies). It’s disconcerting because this is not the most free-flowing of Van Graan’s plays, and the weight of its themes is best brought home when their discharging feels as worryingly familiar as the news headlines that that mirror the script, rather than being more obviously imbued with spectacle.
Bam has arguably the meatiest role, with his character acutely aware of the value of loyalty but conflicted regarding its fair and equal application, and he does well, making Matshoba both strong and obviously broken as his ambition and its associated arrogance cloud his judgement on a number of other issues. And Morojele gives less of a sense that he’s acting than anyone else, giving Nyaka a surly mien that informs each sense he’s in.
Green Man Flashing doesn’t – by design – answer some of the questions it poses. As befits its newly determined status as a school setwork, it encourages closer scrutiny of the topics it examines, including the holding to account those who cause victor-less situations like the one depicted here.