Witty slice of the human meat market
Worst Of Both Worlds
DIRECTOR: Bulelani Mabutyana
CAST: Thando Suselo and Lubabalo Nontwana
VENUE: Golden Arrow Studio inside the Baxter Theatre
UNTIL: August 4
When the grass on the other side is just about as brown as the side you’re on. Written and directed by Bulelani Mabutyana, this play was named the Best of Zabalaza at this year’s annual Baxter Theatre festival. And it’s clear to see why. Bringing the worldwide issue of human trafficking a lot closer to home, Worst of Both Worlds uses a story that is so relatable it could be anyone’s really.
In the beginning, Pinkie Stofile is a child from Khayelitsha who has a sweet tooth and a soft spot for a song her mother taught her. By the end, Pinkie is a woman whose taste of life abroad brought an even bigger urge to hold on to something more than a song that reminds her of her mother.
When she’s just a little girl, Pinkie is lured into a car by her school principal, an authority figure with a pocket full of lekkers, more formally known as sweets.
She becomes a victim of child trafficking and becomes a tiny drop in an ocean of prostitution that makes supply and demand its ebb and flow.
There is never a shortage of demand, so the supply keeps coming. From all over the world, there are girls and women who are never to be seen again by their loved ones. As Papa Joe – the modern day slave master and pimp – practically spits at Pinkie, “your mother is in Africa, you will never see her again”.
But Pinkie does get to go back to the Motherland, even though she doesn’t find what she’d been looking for. After growing up on the streets of New York and getting her education through the hard-knock school of the sex industry, she decides she is fed up with “cold people and cold conversations”.
Her confidant and fellow slave, Ada, is tired of being offered crack as payment for her services when what she really wants is money or freedom, whichever comes first.
The friends hatch a plan to free themselves of Papa Joe and this makeshift family and Pinkie winds up back in Khayelitsha. But, naturally, she doesn’t have much luck with finding a legitimate job and is hoodwinked and abducted once more. Now a sex slave in her own country, Pinkie realises she may have thought life abroad was worse, but it’s the same as being at home.
Interestingly, Pinkie is not played by a woman. In fact, all the characters are acted by two spell-binding young men. Performing in English and Xhosa, Suselo and Nontwana take turns playing Pinkie, prostitutes, policemen and pamphlet slingers with panache.
They use an almost bare set to its maximum potential and in many ways, it lends itself to the metaphor of being stripped of your home, past and identity and having to make do with the little you have that runs through the story. How arm wrestling becomes symbolic of rape and physical violence is very clever and arrests the emotions.
The rectangular table in the middle of the stage and the black chair towards the edge take turns becoming a car, a news anchor’s desk, an interrogation space and a window.
The actors use their bodies in swift, seamless moves to interact with these make-believe objects and each other. It’s so fluid that it’s a pleasure to be transported wholly into New York City and Khayelitsha, respectively.
Through deliberate lighting, red is the primary colour that is used to signify danger, a memory (picture the red in a photographic dark-room) and a change of scenery. Suselo and Nontwana even wear red pants and red T-shirts through-out the play.
I enjoyed that there were no blurred lines or grey areas here and with their backs to the audience, we followed the actors into unknown territory with their towering shadows on the wall in front of them telling the story.
Human trafficking is handled in an edu-tainment sense that is laid out in simple, visual terms. The audience left questioning how they themselves can be more vigilant and help end this sadistic trade.
While the play was great, it wasn’t perfect. Perhaps, owing to the fact that it wasn’t a full house, the actors sometimes hammed up some of the camp characters to get bigger laughs.
Also, the 55-minute-long play feels uneven towards the end because there is what feels like a premature conclusion of events before Pinkie’s great escape home.
These, however, are problems that could be solved with time.