The complexities of Skierlik, a play written and performed by the multitalented Phillip Dikotla, are hidden under a thin veil of simplicity. A bare stage with a box in the middle and a single actor dressed in red overalls sets the scene for an expertly woven story of tangled emotions.
The play is based on the horrific racially motivated shootings that took place in the informal settlement of Skierlik in 2008. Dikotla takes us back there, on a journey through the eyes of Thomas, a former resident of the small remote town between Johannesburg and the Botswana border. Based on true events, Thomas is the husband of Anna and father of three-month old Elizabeth, who were amongst the victims of the shootings. The play is Thomas’ journey as he returns for the first time in three years to the home he’d left behind because the memories were just too heavy.
Enraptured by his monologue, the audience rides with Thomas on the back of a white bakkie from Diepsloot to the long dirt road that leads back to Skierlik. And before you know it, you are inside Thomas’ mind, and you too have to face what he is about to face back in his tiny shack. The blue shack with the padlock on the door.
Phillip Dikotla is a brilliant playwright. He’s a captivating actor. And he’s a storyteller of epic proportions. Through his musings as Thomas, we learn about the history of Skierlik. His stories are woven through with a sharp but amicable sense of humour and, even while making astute observations about society and humanity, he balances the seriousness of his topics by entertaining the audience into feeling laugh-out-loud good.
As we get drawn deeper and deeper into Thomas’ mind, we explore topics such as branding and tragedy… and the branding of tragedy. The media, our heroes, happiness, the exploitation of emotion by politicians, dealing with loss, the reinventing of the self, our connection with the spirit world – the scope of topics explored in this one play leaves its audience with a lot to chew on afterwards. And believe me, you will be chewing on it. Skierlik is not the kind of play that you will forget.
I left the Baxter with my emotions shaken and stirred. And with an immense respect for Phillip Dikotla, for the skill with which he pulled off the retelling of a story that left raw wounds in the South African psyche.
A worthy winner of the Best of the 2013 Zabalaza Theatre Festival, Dikotla has an uncanny ability to paint vivid pictures with his words and his actions. I could smell the red dust while sitting in the dark of the theatre with the tears coursing down my cheeks. Yes the story is searingly painful, but Dikotla does it an immense justice by bringing it back to life in this breathtakingly good performance.
Skierlik runs at the Baxter Theatre to 15 June 2013 at 12 noon & 7pm daily. Tickets are just R 25.