Summer season: Carla Fonseca and Jayne Batzofin bond in a scene from Other People's Lives.

OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES. Written by Amy Jephta. Directed by Sanjin Muftic, with Jayne Batzofin, Carla Fonseca, Carel Nel and Lauren Steyn. Set design Illka Louw. Lighting design Alfred Rietmann. At the Arena Theatre, Artscape until September 29. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews

THE Artscape New Writing programme is a showcase for new South African plays and in its eighth year continues to introduce vibrant new voices to local audiences.

It is the emphasis that is placed on the development of new scripts that results in the incisive vignettes portrayed in Other People’s Lives. Amy Jephta has crafted a script which is both social commentary and incisive exposé of interpersonal relationships.

The narrative begins and ends on New Year’s Eve and shifts between current and past events experienced by two couples. They live in the same apartment block in the city are separated by more than just a layer of bricks and mortar.

Meg and Larry’s staid heterosexual union, mired in petty squabbles, is contrasted with Jane and Claire, an interracial lesbian couple embarking on a new relationship.

The adjectives of interracial dialogue and homosexuality are pertinent to the storyline although the minutiae of intimate relationships are universal regardless of sexual orientation or race. As the nature of their shared tragedy is revealed, the faultlines of their relationships are cracked wide open.

Relationships with intimate partners, neighbours and society are examined and found wanting. The tenuous fragility of the cultivated carapaces of uncaring, which enable people to live in an urban environment without sullying their days with other people’s problems, is exposed.

That classic urban syndrome of anonymity, the desire to maintain strict boundaries, to not interfere or get involved in “other people’s lives” unravels with devastating consequences. Despite their best intentions at separate lives, they are intertwined by virtue of their proximity and cannot escape the consequences of a shared existence.

Jephta’s scalpel-like revelation of everyday prejudices comments on our complicity in the crass violence of urban living. Acquiescence and truths left unsaid are as potentially damaging as the spoken insult or barbed remark. Jephta’s keen ear for dialogue allows for sufficient wit to render the characters human and break the tension of the bleak and relentless trajectory to the inevitable outcome.

Batzofin is well known for her role in visual theatre and brings a fragility to her character which is not dependent on language alone. Nel, who won the 2011 Fleur De Cap award for best actor in 2011, elicits the most sympathy as a hen-pecked, drunken husband.

Meg can barely contain her venom and her homophobic bitterness reveals that prejudice is not confined to any one community or class or race.

The acid oozes from her beguiling, bland, suburban persona. Her disregard for anyone other than herself is nauseating and Steyn delivers the character at just the right pitch.

Illka Louw’s monochromatic set design deftly delineates the two households whilst simultaneously allowing them to overlap in both time and space. The beige and grey reflect another dimension of the murkiness of personal choices; nothing is succinctly black or white. Clothing and random objects of their lives are suspended as if after the explosion of their everyday reality.

The attention to detail in the mundane props of living; wallet, coffee cups, socks, gives the production a striking visual coherence. Exits, entrances and transitions are faded in with masterful lighting by Alfred Rietmann.

This is the first production of Artscape’s summer season, which continues until November and from the outset it promises to offer a feast of new local scripts.

l The production is staged on Tuesdays at 7.30pm and Wednesday to Saturday at 8.15pm. Matinee performances are at 3pm on Saturday and September 29. Tickets are R50 and R85.

To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000 or see www.computicket.com or call Artscape Dial-a-Seat at 021 471 7695.