Review: WAYS OF DYING – superb staging at The Baxter

The fourth year acting students from the Centre for Theatre, Dance & Performance Studies end the year on a high

By: Nov. 14, 2020

Review: WAYS OF DYING – superb staging at The Baxter

I first read Zakes Mda's novel WAYS OF DYING back in my university days as part of my studies and the story has stuck with me ever since. It's an incredible piece that seems almost naïve in story to being with but reveals a depth that is both disturbing and deeply impactful. The production of this story that is currently on at The Baxter's Flipside Theatre is an adaptation created by Lara Foot, who is also one of the directors. Mdu Kweyama and Bongile Mantsai make up the rest of the team, taking charge of choreography and music respectively.

The surrealism that runs through the novel works nicely as the story is translated into a theatrical space, and Patrick Curtis' set is absolutely perfect for it all. The audience is greeted by an open landscape that is littered with shoes and other pieces that seem carelessly strewn about. The pile of shoes at the back of the stage, upon which our hero Toloki (the professional mourner) sits as the audience enters, feels like a chilling nod to the concentration camps of WW2. The playing area for the actors is carefully defined by the Review: WAYS OF DYING – superb staging at The Baxter other items that seem to just be lying about. Then, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that each item is there to be transformed into a prop or piece of set. It's absolutely brilliantly done.

There was a good flow to the overall play, with transitions between scenes being made through dance, music and song created by instruments right there on the stage (played live by Mantsai and cast members), and some intricate lighting (designed by Mannie Manim). The clever use of props, like two actors holding a wooden bar to create a swing for another actor, kept the action moving nicely and lent itself to the surreal nature of the story.

I did find that some elements of the story were a bit disjointed. The young cast worked hard to deal with some heavy subject matter, and it didn't always ring true. I also found that the 90-minute running time was a bit long, with some parts feeling like unnecessary distractions from the overall message. However, the stunning visual created at the end with all the actors on stage made for a powerful final impact. I left the theatre feeling satisfied and grateful to be able to see live shows again. This young, talented group of actors have done well, especially in such difficult times.

Review: WAYS OF DYING – superb staging at The Baxter

On a final note, I'd like to say well done to the Baxter for opening up again and finding a way to make people feel safe and welcome at a public gathering. The COVID-19 protocols were well thought out and it was good to see everyone there - at a safe social distance and being reminded to keep masks up and sanitise regularly.

Photo credit: supplied

WAYS OF DYING runs at the Baxter Flipside Theatre until 14 November 2020. Patrons are encouraged to arrive an hour earlier to avoid delays and to wear masks as required by COVID-19 regulations. Book at Webtickets on 086 111 0005 or online at

TRIGGER WARNING: The content of this production may trigger as it deals with the brutality and harsh realities of life during apartheid.