Theatre Reviews: Home Affairs – Mutual Misgivings, Or Crises And Context

February 24, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Home Affairs / Directed by Michelle Douglas / Theatre On The Square, Sandton

 

Given a chance to wade through either a crocodile-infested swamp or the morass of red tape that surrounds every single step of sorting out identity or travel documents, a good number of us would happily choose the former, and enjoy a lovely leech braai afterwards.

Writer-director Michelle Douglas, like everyone in the audience, will have had her own experiences of the queuing, the waiting, the inexplicable absence of any tellers behind 14 of the 17 counters, the strange smells of sweat and the non-working loo behind the jammed-open door in the corner of the waiting room. A simple set comprising a few rows of basic, uncomfortable chairs, a couple of signs missing letters and an annoying flickering light quickly evokes the physical feel and angst-ridden mood of a municipal waiting room.

Seated there is an unnamed man (Sello Molahloane), shown to be a veteran of too many such experiences by his cooler bag, containing a bottle of water, and towel over his shoulder to both mop his brow in the heat of the stuffy room and to use after using the bathroom, since no such luxury is offered there. He is there to make a simple collection, but his number will take several hours to come up. He’s joined by another man (Lawrence Joffe) who needs to collect some documents needed for emigration paperwork.

The men – from different racial, economic and cultural backgrounds, get on well from the off, an authentic phenomenon that tends to make such experiences tolerable in real life, and the action consists of their sustained dissection of a national situation where there are multi-faceted challenges and reasons to feel depressed, but there is also just about enough resilience and optimism to find reasons to keep going – or at least to support each other along the way.

Both men are in their fifties – not young enough to be naïve about the possibilities of things getting better or expecting starting afresh to be easy, and too old to have the energy or confidence to truly leap into trying anything new. That creates a pleasing interlocking of crises – the governance version and the midlife version – which allows the characters to both find common ground in experience terms and to collectively satirise the current state of South African affairs (including an hilariously committed tirade about tenders).

The latter combines easy laughs (scoffing at Eskom is the only appropriate reaction sometimes) with uneasy ones (when the audience realises that the characters’ gripes apply to what happens as soon as they leave the theatre). And on balance, what with the nature of the subject matter and some pacing that will be polished as this brand new play moves through its debut run, the mood is slightly downbeat. That’s not unreasonable, and the friendly chemistry between Molahloane and Joffe is an unspoken confirmation that we can all form worthwhile bonds in the midst of frustration and anxiety. But it’s not so far away from our daily headlines that it counts as true escapism, which makes for a strange happy-sad feeling on the way out.

 

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