DIRECTOR: Mari Borstlap

CAST: Ilse Klink, Brendon Daniels, Roysten Stoffels, Bianca Flanders, Tarryn Wyngaard, Dean Smith, Gantane Kusch, Daniel Richards, Dean Balie, Riaan Visman and Antonio Fischer

VENUE: The Fugard

UNTIL: Saturday

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

Kristalvlakte is a devastating portrait in the Brechtian tradition which shows that in war, no one wins.

Taking her structural cue from Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, writer Amy Jephta has transplanted Kristalvlakte onto the Cape Flats, given it a colloquial Afrikaans voice and made gang warfare around the drug trade the central conflict.

The Fugard Theatre stage is littered with (hopefully salt) crystals scattered in heaps and musicians can be seen playing a piano and drums on a raised dais at the back of the stage. Sitting right in front, I couldn’t make out what the lyrics were to the few songs incorporated into the work, but for the most part the play is driven in the dialogue anyway, so that’s neither here nor there.

Priscilla (Klink) is the mother who takes to peddling anything she can sell in order to make a living for herself and her three children. At times referring to her family as the last of the karretjiemense, she keeps them constantly on the move as she buys and sells small goods from thieves and desperate folk looking for a quick buck.

Though she constantly admonishes her children not to become involved with the gangs, she herself becomes deeply involved in the drugs trade as she peddles stolen goods and enables junkies to find another quick fix.

Every time the audience starts feeling a measure of sympathy for her plight, she digs herself deeper into the complicated mess, knowingly implicating herself through illegal activities and denying her own flesh and blood to save herself (all in the name of protecting her children), blaming every bad thing on someone else and never taking any responsibility herself.

Every time we also start falling into the story, empathising with characters, the structure of the play reminds you it is a production. Each act is introduced by a disembodied voice explaining the chronological setting in the story as actors and stage hands change the set and a live feed from backstage gives the audience a glimpse into the mechanics of make-up and providing sound effects from backstage.

One of Priscilla’s few friends, or rather a longtime acquaintance who has designs on her, is the local pastor – Royston Stoffels strutting around with a wooden Bashews crate under his arm, onto which he climbs to denounce all and sundry for their behaviour is a haunting image that encapsulates the hypocrisy of those in power who talk and talk and talk. There is a strong thread of anti-establishment thinking running through the work, with the gangsters who open the play establishing their belief that without crime the law would not even exist and that coloured folk are the unwanted step-children in this country, needed for work purposes by government, but unwanted for anything else.

While the emphasis is on Priscilla, this isn’t just her story and Klink is supported by a strong and varied cast of knowns and unknowns who tackled a variety of roles ranging from gang boss to local Lothario and world-weary prostitute.

The play is strongly disconcerting in message as well as presentation, but you have to wonder who it is aimed at.

Presenting it at the Fugard may attract the well-heeled Capetonians who have no clue about what life is like on the Flats, but since the story makes a strong case for introspection about your own culpability it needs a wider distribution to really take effect.