Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act
Eloquent but dispassionate production of poetic apartheid drama
This article is from 2012.
Exactly 40 years after it was written, Athol Fugard’s poetic condemnation of South Africa’s Immorality Act, which outlawed interracial intercourse until its repeal in 1985, stands as a fervent memorial, lest we forget the inhumanity of that prohibition. For all the play’s ongoing worldwide resonance, it lacks a present-tense urgency; its zeal replaced by a quiet dignity.
A black man and a white woman lie naked and entwined on a rug on the floor: a human ying-yang symbol. On account of the Immorality Act, they meet secretly in the library, as if confined to a space of ideas. They keep the lights off, hoping for equality in the darkness that lets their skin tones homogenize.
And yet, as Fugard gently probes their relationship, it becomes apparent that true parity is impossible. It’s not that the two shall never meet, but rather that one should not meet with the other. As Fugard delicately puts it, she sneaks out of her skin just as he sneaks out of his marriage.
However such sneaking arouses suspicions and, in flashes of a strobe lighting that puncture the atmosphere, two bodies dart for cover: one definitely black, the other definitely white. In the court trial that follows, she has to protest her equal share of the guilt, that she turned off the light and incited the relationship. Accuser, judge and witnesses all speak in the same disembodied voice, amplified so that you can hear each repulsive click of saliva.
Kim Kerfoot’s production for the Fugard Theatre, part of a Fringe season of South African work, is always eloquent, but better when excoriating than dreaming. The utopian start is dimly lit by necessity, but it makes illegible silhouettes of its actors. Nonetheless, Bo Peterson and Malefane Mosuhli look choreographed together: at ease with one another, without really relishing the union or breathing one another in.
Assembly Hall, 623 3030, until 27 Aug (not 13, 20), 12.15, £14–£16 (£13–£15).