Anthony Akerman wrote 'Somewhere on the Border" in the early 80s, in exile, based on his and countless conscripts' experiences in the then SADF. Of course, it was banned here for being 'prejudicial to the state' ... then. But this is now, for now - who knows what happens if the Secrecy Bill is passed and media tribunal manifests.
This morning though, I experienced an Akerman doubleheader - the playwright himself giving a lecture as part of TalkFest; and then watching the play itself on the Festival Main programme an hour later. Akerman spoke eruditely about his experiences in the army, the writing of the piece, its banning and his feelings at having to debut his South African play thousands of kilometers away from a home he was not permitted to return to till 1990. He's a very kind, emotional, man, who in his talk often choked up as he related the real stories of the men whose traumas his play essentially paraphrased. And I could see the effect soak the room in light, as many for the first time began to realise that Apartheid had it's white victims too. And it was very interesting to see this penny drop in young people for whom absolute assumptions always seem to come more naturally.
Indeed, absolutes colliding is a sub-theme of the play itself - young men with morals slamming into a world of hardness, cruelty and war; as their lives fell into the hands of tough men, many of whose upbringing brought the bigot out! "I was in uniform when you were in liquid form", the corporal in "Somewhere on the Border" smugly snarls, as the k word abounds. And the irony is that the actors in this run of the play were literally in liquid form when their characters were actually experiencing this hell. Directed by the brilliant Andre Odendaal, who elicited so much depth from this young post-apartheid cast, "Somewhere on the Border", particularly for someone my age, brought back the 80's with a compassionate toughness that had me reeling at times. I hadn't thought about Noa in years - a quiet accountant, a good man - blown to smithereens by mortar fire on a border which was the last place he wanted to be, and was. Or Sean, who in the 90s wept, drunk, at what he'd had to do to save his men's lives, but which entailed shooting someone not much older than a boy. I draft-dodged. But the stories and the call-ups and the tragedies touched us all. And this morning felt like catharsis for an audience of all races in through theatre. If 'Somewhere on the Border' runs where you are, go see it! There is always good in remembering how much we came through to become a democracy that now under different masters is always under threat. Today I must admit that I wept a little for the insuferable weight of whiteness all we caucasians who remember carry; and for those who unlike me didn't have university and greek passport to save them from being rifleman 7854231.
The play is always hillariously funny; and it's this constant dichotomy of tragedy and humour, and the one in the other, which makes this a truly outstanding creation! Through the laughter he generates and the tears he elicits, Akerman has ultimately given us a South African classic! And as a writer, all I can say is "what a script!"
Now though, I become a drummer! Tonight we gig!
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