Mike van Graan a modern Nostradamus? Either that or South African politics has become pithily predictable. Set in the hype and hysteria of the run up to a national election the play uses an incident of high-profile rape as a launching point for a multi-faceted dialectic. A parody of our own president’s notorious rape debacle of 2006, one might think. Not so. In fact this is a chilling example of life imitating art: Van Graan wrote the text in 2004, two years before the occurrence of the controversial case that consumed South Africa. He’s that sharp.
Van Graan uses this imagined incident as a springboard to fearlessly dive into a series of harrowing themes exploringSouth Africa’s political past, present and future. Juxtaposing imagery from Apartheid and the TRC he starkly compares justice then with justice now, leaving the audience to contest a perplexing series of moral and ethical conundrums. Conversation was certainly heated as the audience members gathered in the foyer after the show.
This ethically engaging and politically provocative piece of theatre appeases the theatrical senses on all levels. Brilliant acting is tailored with slick, clean design and multimedia courtesy of decisive and deliberate direction from Hennie van Greunen. This production employs a highly accessible filmic aesthetic as van Greunen plays with the dynamics of projected footage that evokes a constant, harrowing presence of that South African icon of post-apartheid justice: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And not only does Green Man Flashing have all the right moves in all the right places aesthetically, but the text of this post-post democratic masterpiece delves into the collective conscious of South African political psychology and facilitates the debate of individual rights v. ‘the bigger picture’.
The play revolves around an inter-racial couple of former exiles: the wife, Gabby Andersen ( Anthea Thompson), is the assistant to the vice-president-in-waiting while her husband, Aaron Matshoba (Wiseman Sithole), is a prominent member of the cabinet and enigmatic spin doctor. Their relationship with one another and with a couple of cops (Thami Mbongo and Theo Abrahams) and an idealistic lawyer (Susan Danford) forms the platform for van Graan’s greater socio-political exploration.
The company’s acting is highly commendable, and the cast as a whole forms a tight unit supporting one another with perfect timing and collaborative explosive presence. In particular the Fleur du Cap and Vita award-winning Anthea Thompson is absolutely riveting in the protagonist’s role. This is surely one of the top performances of the year from an extremely talented, dedicated and attentive actress.
Admittedly I picked out a couple of errant sound cues, a couple of fluffs and some minor technical glitches, but all of these can be easily dismissed as opening night jitters. Capetonians are notoriously gracious with standing ovations but the one for Green Man Flashing was undoubtedly heartfelt and authentic. This is an engaging and complex thriller that will have you anxiously gripping the edge of your seat, gasping for air as you are sucked into the quagmire of questionable political ethics.
In a director’s note Hennie van Greunen advises “so if the green dude is flashing in your favour, do look carefully before you take that first step”. This may sounds like a cheap pseudo-Confucian quote but I urge you to go and see the play and be prepared to have your belief systems challenged. This is some seriously good theatre that is anything but pedestrian.
Green Man Flashing runs at the Artscape Theatre 13 – 23 June 2012.