Timely play on Indian "racism"
September 15, 2017
South Africa: It's fairly easy to assume that a South African play about racism would feature a White character or be about a White racist. There is not a single White character in sight or even in the subtext in Rajesh Gopie's play, TAMASHA ON HOPE STREET.
In the light of Economic Freedom Fighters' leader Julius Malema's statement last month about Indian racism, Gopala Davies's production of Rajesh Gopie's TAMASHA ON HOPE STREET could not be more timely.
There are moments in this play which offers a rather fat slice of life in Chatsworth that will make most Indians cringe because the characters are so recognisable --- a family member, a neighbour, the local police officer .... all so superbly crafted by Gopie's pen to reveal that underbelly of Indian racism, xenophobia and classism that we have become so adept at either concealing or denying.
But the masterful Gopala Davies's direction of this play doesn't get stuck in gilding the lilly about Indian racism. He gets to the grips of Gopie's writing because what may at the surface seem to be a play about Indian xenophobia against Albert, a Zimbabwean migrant is really a play about Payal, an Indian street prostitute - another dark side of Indian life that is swept not just under the carpet but buried even under the floor-boards.
Ameera Patel pulls this character out from under the floorboards with a performance that is so achingly poignant, so powerfully strong and sometimes so delicately nuanced -a prostitute whom you just can't help falling in love with!
With Wilhelm Disbergen's superb set design comprised of cardboard boxes that fill up the blackbox theatre you'd once again assume that TAMASHA OF HOPE is about a community that is boxed in by their own prejudices, beliefs and cultural practices but again that is not the cases. Gopie's remarkable directorial hand gets right inside those boxes and he unravels a slice of South African life that highlights that even those of us who were brutally affected by apartheid are still as much seriously screwing up not just with racism and xenophobia but rather with that very thin thread that binds us all together - our common humanity.
In this play in which racism is anchored as its selling theme it is so refreshing not to see a single White actor on stage or hear about White racists. TAMASHA ON HOPE is a powerful retort to every Indian who was upset by Julius Malema's comments. This is what good theatre is about. It is about speaking to the moment but not by screaming and crying out aloud but by simply giving us a slice of life that says, "Shut up and reflect!"
But more than all of that, it still is a play about Payal, an Indian street prostitute played by Ameera Patel with such absolute authenticity and conviction. Payal may seem a little unfamiliar to Jozi audiences who are used to seeing the African night time sex workers in Oxford Street or those White prostitutes in the uppercrust brothels of Sandton - and that is one damn good reason to go and see this play!