When one of the first things you’re told before entering a theatre is “sit wherever you like and move around throughout the play”, you know you’re in for a surprise, if not an appearance on stage!
And upon entering, the surprises come thick and fast, from the unusual sight of red soil on the floor to the audience’s benches encircling the ‘sahara-esque’ landscape.
From Joburg with soul
Under Tue Biering’s direction, a Johannesburg crew of seven white powder-faced actors separately make their way towards the centre of the stage, slowly bringing their characters to life.
The actors tell a narrative through the eyes of ‘white people’. First to narrate, Lilian Tshabalala, wearing a large blonde wig and a white face, tells the story of 60 million European migrants who reached the Americas from the Atlantic. The land that awaited them was infected with poverty and disease, we learn.
On stage with the actors
It’s not long before the fourth wall is broken and actors bring up audience members to act as extras on stage. The entire Revolver theatre is made use of: from props to makeshift panels to the audience’s benches, every inch of space is utilised.
A stand-out moment comes when the cast select a group from the audience to perform a line dance. The dance routine is choreographed live and the best dancer then ‘sold’ as a slave. Other audience members get to act as saloon visitors and church congregation members.
The city of gold tells of the goldrush
Alternating effectively between humour and brutality, the scenes are divided into chapters. From the early settlers versus the natives, to the Gold Rush, Genocide, Little Houses on the Prairie, and everything else you might associate with the Wild West.
Scenographers Johan Kølkjær and Marie Rosendahl Chemnitz provide the actors with all sorts of tricks up their sleeves – you never really know what will happen next, or if you’ll be invited on stage.
Another notable feature is the usage of cinematographic cameras spread across the ‘stage’ and exhibited via a large projector – some are close-ups, some are wide shots – and presented by the crew.
A final tribute
The last chapter is possibly the most emotive. The seven actors from South Africa talk about their childhood in the townships in Johannesburg in testimonial style.
Particularly touching was one actor’s recollection of his parents’ efforts to give him a higher education by learning English. They worked hard and couldn’t afford to practise at home so they bought a Hollywood western and watched it. The violence he witnessed, he re-enacted, in hindsight wondering whether it would have been better if he hadn’t been exposed to it.
The interactivity produced by Fix&Foxy is unparalleled. A historical storyline from an unexpected perspective gives us a different sense of Western civilization.