BWW Review: FORCE at Baxter Packs Political and Plot Line Punches
Approaching politics in the arts is never an easy to feat, but one that is constantly necessary in a tumultuous political climate. Taking on the recent events of student uprisings, a change in president, and even Trump's election, FORCE combines political power with behind-closed-doors intrigue to present a production brewing with dramatic thrill.
The play opens with an interesting form of direction of what I can best describe as "minimal mime". Dialogue is played over minimalist actions and facial expressions of a news interview - creating a sense of surrealism for the audience. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the action that unfolds: a sneak peek into "a not so inconceivable South African future".
We are then introduced to a multitude of characters whose own story trajectory gets intersected with each other. Political gain, personal gain, lies, mystery and double-crossing all unfold in just under 90 minutes, making for what promises to be a thrilling drama. It is evident the playwright had a clear idea of where they expected the play to go, but it feels at times that the play gets caught up in its own drama; to the extent that subject matter becomes repetitive. Dialogue exploring infidelity or political promiscuity, for example, could have been cut short by a few lines and still have gotten the message across.
It is still commendable to the playwright for tackling a number of topical issues relevant to the South African climate, and commendable to the cast for taking on such heavy material. Energy never wanes throughout the production and climaxes are skillfully reached.
An experienced performer herself fresh off the stage from the ensemble of CALLING US HOME, director Regina Malan excels in doing the best with what she has in terms of space. She creates a "natural" feel to her setting where characters easily flow in and out of scenes. With only the lounge setting to work with for a heated amount of action to take place, Malan has done well to adapt interactions and blocking to match the mood of scenes. Technical proficiency is also commendable in this production as even the smallest lighting and sound effects add to the natural flow of play.
This naturalism, however, can unfortunately not be said the same of for the acting at times. True to the play's name, characters sometimes felt forced; lacking a sense of comfort on stage. What can probably be put down to opening night nerves, opening dialogue was also at times clipped and lost on audience members. It took a while for characters to come into their own, some only finding their feet halfway though.
With that being said, standout performances come from the likes of Luvo Tamba as Wilfred Maninho and Roxy Rose Modricky as Chris Melsh. Tamba plays political front man and conniving presidential candidate very well, whose clear and ordinary flow of dialogue is at times in contrast to his underlying extreme character. Similarly, Modricky is highly believable as a self-righteous American photojournalist whose possible savior complex is kept in check by her gentle approach to her character.
Concluding on a note of hope, FORCE's optimistic ending can extend to that of local theatre. While, with any production, there can still be work to be done, the cast and crew of FORCE can be proud to present a production that tackles topical issues head on, and proves to the South African theatre scene that up and coming players in the arts are "overly awake".
Photo credit: Yasmin Hankel