Day 17: Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom

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Pink bubblegum. That’s the tiny little detail that links all characters in this South-African version of Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen. They all are blowing bubbles. And then there’s that other link, of course: sex.

‘This play takes all kinds of people through the same sexual idea: that you can be a great mind or a person of great stature and yet be reduced to an imbecile a moment before you have to fuck. That’s why I call the play Foreplay.’  Questions, anyone? This is Grootboom’s rather free adaptation of Arthur Schitzler’s classic Reigen(‘La ronde/Hands around’), in which the Austrian writer revealed (in 1897) the moral hypocrisy of Viennese society in ten love scenes.

But forget Vienna, this is South-Africa. There’s no doubt about that, when you see the prostitute, the soldier, the married lady, the priest or the young girl parade on stage. Grootboom is not a fan of a too intellectual or abstract approach, he opts for a basic and simple way of presenting these scenes. And I must say I quite enjoyed his playful, vibrant combination of  humour, acting, dancing and music.

But what I didn’t get was the last part. All of a sudden Grootboom has to kick his audience in the stomach with a horrible rape scene and a lengthy political speech on how a country needs ‘national cohesion’ instead of democracy. As an extra bonus the raped prostitute fronts the audience to tell us that we are all whores. Maybe it works as a means to shock South-African audiences, but I perceived it as a strange and dramatic shift in tone that didn’t do this play any good.

(photo credit: Paul Grootboom)

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