Theatre review: Bash or be Bashed

Posted: June 17, 2011 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

ASTRID STARK reviews, first published in Cape Times 15 June 2011

Killer Matric Dance parties revisited.

Most of us will never forget our final school year’s Matric dance.  As proof we have photos of ourselves with ridiculously big hair hairstyles and outrageously shiny and sequenced dresses with enormous shoulders that have been worn once.  Then there are those spotty boys in rented tuxedos nervously staring into the camera with one arms tightly wrapped around their, stiff as a broomstick, dates’ waists.
The after party, or Matric bash, is a release of the previous 12 years’ hard work and an emancipation from school rules, uniforms, bells and exams, regulating young lives.  Perhaps this is why so many kids completely lose control at their after parties. 

Bash or be Bashed has been created to serve as a stern warning to school learners about the dangers at some of these after parties.  The story is told by a young cast of dancers and actors through dancing, dialogue, music, and visual imagery projected on a white screen. 

The production gives the audience an omniscient view of what takes place at some of the parties and how the kids can be both the bullies and the victims.  Many of the kids at this particular party went there simply to have fun, whereas others had ulterior motives, which would eventually virtually destroy at least one girl’s life. Most of the production shows what happens at the actual party. Loud modern music is blared over the speakers, and strobe lights pierce through pockets of smoke.

It is both peculiar and very effective the way that hardly any dialogue is used. The bit of dialogue used is a mixture of mostly Xhosa and some English. Although it may offer a bit more insight if you were able to understand Xhosa, the smattering of English, and the body language and stage action clearly gets the message across.

Small groups of partygoers gather on the stage. Some are doing their best to get plastered as quickly as possible. The pretty girls are dancing and some dodgy boys prowl the perimeters looking for a gap.  Some of the girls are flirting outrageously, teasing the already hormonally charged boys.  A young virgin is forced to take drugs and it is washed down with booze, under duress.  The consequence is that she wakes up the next morning in a strange bed; realising that she has been raped.  As the reality that she has been exposed to AIDS, STD’s and pregnancy sets in, she speaks of her disappointment, shame and anger.  One by the story’s other protagonists step forward to relate the experience from their perspectives.  There is also a clever interplay between the school leaving youth and the trouble youth that are already out of school and trying to influence the young learners.

The themes of the various attitudes toward casual sex and bullying are explored. Even though the action on stage at first seems like a random and spontaneous night out on a dance floor, it soon becomes clear that all the moves have been skillfully choreographed.  Assistant director, Peggy Tunyiswa said after the show that some of the young actors are dancers, but not all.  They certain all came across as skilled dancers as I watched how they cleverly use their young flexible bodies to tell the story.  It actually feels as if you are transported to their party. I was tapping my feet and hooting along with many of the audience members. 

Although the production is clearly an educational aimed at learners, parents and teachers will probably benefit from this reminder of what lies beneath the after party bash.  In this day and age it should comes as no surprise that many of these parties are just an excuse for participating in casual sex, drug taking, alcohol abuse, and bullying, it is interesting to hear the teenagers show us how it works from their viewpoints. The subject matter is truly very serious but the way it is told makes it so much more accessible.  Telling teenagers what to do is like a silver bullet to the heart of a werewolf. Sometimes they do the opposite of what parents and teachers ask them just because they can.  Bash or be Bashed is not preaching at teenagers, neither is it telling them what to do, or how to run their lives.  It is a lot more show than tell; a kind of a subversive way of trying to sow the seeds of understanding in the fertile teenage psyche.  And it is a good deal of fun as well.  If nothing else it is good trip down memory lane of the days when we all tottered precariously on the fine line dividing teenager and adult.

 The production forms part of the Umbiyozo Youth Festival that is featuring, music, dance praise poetry and a choral tribute to Nelson Mandela. The Youth Festival ends 19 June 2011.

Tickets are R50 through www.computicket.co.za, Directed by Thoko Ntshinga and Peggy Tunyiswa, at The Artscape Theater until 1

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