CAST: Patrick Sanku Bokaba, Macks Papo, Josias Moleele, Brandon Auret, Tshallo Chokwe, Emma Siphiwe Mmekwa, Pamela Ndlovu

VENUE: Arena State Theatre

UNTIL: June 8


Poverty is on everyone’s mind and if it’s not, it should be. Looking ahead, it is the growing divide between those who have and those who are simply trying to survive that will dominate and possibly destroy the world as we know it.

That’s why playwright and director Aubrey Sekhabi, when looking at the topic of food security, wanted to bring it down to street level. “Stories on stage should be about people,” he says about contributing a play that looks at the global problems of food, initiated by a German company that wanted to reach across continents to establish a global theatre network.

He started his research among people begging on the roadside, asking questions about hunger. How do you live when every day is simply a struggle for survival. How do you wake up? Do you have time for your neighbour? What about family?

And the questions trip over one another as the issues become more interlinked. Perhaps that was also the stumbling block for the playwright. There are too many issues tackled with too little context and subtext, which begin to sound like a litany of societal ills, rather than delving into and dissecting problems that could make a difference in people’s thinking.

When your life as a family falls apart, the effects can be devastating. One child might go begging while the other turns to prostitution, and yet another may fall pregnant to claim the government’s grant. And then? Is that all we’re looking at – listing all the ills?

Violence is, of course, another tool of these kind of graphic tales. While chasing a thief, a pregnant woman is swiped aside and no one even gives her a second glance. The women in Hungry don’t feature in any role other than as victims, which is a tragic picture to paint for the young audiences who might be searching for role models.

Hungry has been written in community theatre style, and performed in a similar fashion to the stories that are shared by the people who best know where they originate and can identify with what is happening.

If power is the thing that destroys people and corruption takes from the poor in particular, what can we do to make our voices heard? We all know the sad stories, but how do we move forward? If a mother turns against her daughter when her husband is abusive, what are the effects on the family? These are details that should be thrashed out, not simply run as a storyline.

The production was presented in grand style, with constant audience participation and a set that felt like being enclosed in a huge rubbish dump, which was appropriate for this particular story. The cast, led by Patrick Sanku Bokaba, do well apart from a few over-the-top moments from Tshallo Chokwe as the power-hungry politician wannabe, who would do better if he was more menacing than overbearing.

It’s not bad to watch and the young audience cheered raucously at the end, but it felt like a missed opportunity not to have backed all that show with some serious content. It’s as if the making of the work didn’t go through all the rigorous processes.