Directed by Quintin Wils, one of the Mail&Guardian’s top 200 Young South Africans of 2014, the stage is a representation of the schizophrenic mind: lights flicker, dark shadows play, chaotic words form on the canvas in the background as the protagonist Mr Lotz (Jannes Erasmus) twitches and pulses, groans and pants.
And the symbolism goes deeper: The misbalance and vulnerability of Mr Lotz is immediately evident in his clothing – nothing but a pair of white jocks and one sock (which he uses on his hand to channel a voice in his head), while the code-switching between English and Afrikaans reflects the changing state of a schizophrenic mind. The wordplay also adds an insightful dimension to the madness and the reality of the death of Mr Lotz’s parents. “Droom” (dream) is interchangeable with “Moord” (murder) and “schizophrenia” with “skietsophrenia” (a reference to shooting).
The innocuous lamps grow to become characters in their own right, and shed light on the series of events that led Mr Lotz to the psychiatric ward. On his right is his sister, on his left is his father and centre front is the cause of his deepest guilt – his mother. The climax reaches a compelling moment as the white cloth becomes a dirty house into which the father lamp rages in, buckling the mother lamp and shouting, “Woman you make me so mad!” The father lamp casts a huge shadow on the back wall: the oppressive presence of an abusive patriarch. Skietsophrenia becomes more apprehensible.
The play makes a distressing statement about psych wards and the reference to Smarties, as anti-mad pills, brings in a deranged playfulness that highlights just how sugar-coated this problem may be. “They don’t want to create a new identity; they just want to delete all traces of self,” states Mr Lotz. Is it simply easier for society to dehumanise people than to try to understand them?
After the play we all received a box of Smarties. Perhaps this was to make us taste what we had experienced. Or perhaps it was to illustrate how we are all a bit mad.
Tayla-Paige van Sittert
Smaarties runs at the Alexander Bar from 17 to 28 November 2014.