Not even cheeky lights could spoil great show at the opening of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot at the Market Theatre

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Can you imagine that we had not seen live theatre for a while, because of the Covid-19 situation and the restrictions that now define public life, and when the opportunity to do so beckoned, you can imagine the excitement that seized our imagination. But some cheeky lights decided to do their own thing on the opening night of this theatrical thriller with good acting in it by the two actors Mncedisi Shabangu and Francois Jacobs.

What happened is that after being politely asked to be seated as per theatre etiquette at 7pm, and we waited for action on stage, it did not come. There was some light that focused intermittently on stage but then went on and off in a sort of free style If you like. We did not immediately suspect that something was wrong. In hindsight we should have known better, but we did not.

It might be because as the lights did their free roaming, they also showed us a good outline of the stage set, including actor Francois Jacobs lying on his bed awkwardly. Instead of focusing on the mis behaving lights, we focused on the lone actor on his single bed on stage. Nobody could have suspected anything was wrong the way that he simply lied calmly, of course waiting for the lights issue to be fixed  just in time. It did not immediately happen, but Jacobs  remained where he was, as If that was part of the script, talk about professionalism.

But then we waited for five minutes, 10 minutes and when it was 15 minutes, after the show was supposed to start, some among the theatre audience started to suspect that something was not right. Good people that they were, they did not voice their misgivings loudly, but in their silence they spoke loudly.

To be honest, we were also not definitely sure as we thought well, maybe the director and his cast decided they were going to stretch this production to another level, as after all Athol Fugard’s plays have always thrived on the black and white dynamics in a racially segregated country that South Africa was during apartheid when he wrote some of his most seminal plays. His plays are well known for testing the limits of what society at the time thought was acceptable.

But we were wrong, as the lights incident was not part of the Blood Knot script at all. This was real, and we only got to know this after a shy usher came into the theatre, and in a shaky voice apologised for the technical glitz and asked us to take a 15 minute break as the lighting designers worked on the problem. We obliged and did not complain as we also had time to catch up with people we had not seen for a long time due to the absence of theatrical productions on stage because of the Covid-19 situation. In fact we took advantage of this unexpected break to chat as we enjoned wine while waiting for the technicians to deal with the problem at hand.

And this is what happened at the Market Theatre on Tuesday, October 20, 2021, at the opening of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, directed by James Ngcobo, the Market Theatre’s Artistic Director. The play  features hugely talented actor Mncedisi Shabangu and Francois Jacobs, who was brought in only a few days before the show opened, as the original actor pulled out “due to family” issues, and Jacobs actually did well as he stood head to head with the hugely respected and seasoned actor Shabangu.

Edward Tsumele at the opening of Blood Knot.

But when the lights were on, functioning properly eventually, we immediately forgot about this incident as Mncedisi and Francois did what they know best, and which is to act their roles to the best of their abilities.  They convinced us that friendship between two people from different backgrounds can in fact be elevated to that of brothers. They also taught us in a stunningly crude way about the absurdity of racism. These two can act so convincingly that you realise how cruel the coronavirus has been to us as it has denied us the opportunity to watch good theatre, especially If the actors are as talented and as convincing as these two.

As a result we completely forgot about the impolite behaviour of the theatre lights  and focused on the subject matter in scrutiny. It takes talented actors to rescue a situation of a major technical glitch during a theatre opening performance to the extent that at the end, the audience we no longer spoke about that problem, but the subject matter under scrutiny in this play, which is basically predicated on the idea of friendship, racial stereotypes, prejudice and the absurdity of racism. Blood Knot deals with all these themes adequately.

The acting is good, the directing gives a new perspective to this classic play from Fugard. It is a kind of play very much relevant in South Africa today, especially during a time when the centre is shaky when it comes to the complexity surrounding the race dynamics in South Africa in the post colony and post apartheid nation context.

However If you are sensitive to certain words that used to be used carelessly in the past and were acceptable, such as the K-word, you probably need to imagine yourself living in South Africa in the 50s, 60s, and even the 70s and 80s when it was pretty much acceptable to use the K-word when referring to black people, for you to prepare yourself to enjoy this otherwise stunning piece of theatre.

If not though, be warned you might need some sort of counselling after watching this play, simply because in their portrayal of the racial prejudice of the time, Mncedisi and Francois are not holding back in this play.

Therefore despite the lights incident, by the time Blood Knot ended, I felt it was worthwhile to spend a night at theatre, especially after such a long, long time of theatre drought due to the lingering Covid-19.

In short, Blood Knot is a play worth seeing, and If you have time do so, and hopefully the lights will not be in a cheeky mood as they were on Tuesday, October 20, 2021.

.Blood Knot runs at the Market Theatre until 14 November 2021.

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