Play: Ubu and The Truth Commission
Playwright: Jane Taylor
Director: William Kentridge
Form: Intercultural Theatre/Verbatim
Performance: Viewed online here.
Summary: “…a multi-dimensional theatre piece which tries to make sense of the madness which overtook South Africa during apartheid.” (Source: Goodreads)
Please note: I have both read and viewed this text so my review will combine both experiences.
The most important aspect of Jane Taylor’s play is its use of puppetry. Audience members are directed to pay attention to three presences onstage – the human actors, the puppets (animal and human), and the puppeteers. Taylor invites the audience to decipher the chaos.
When I first read the play, I thought Taylor’s use of human puppets for the real life accounts of the horrors that occurred during South Africa’s apartheid was insensitive. However, having viewed the play and reflected on this particular performance aesthetic, I believe it was an appropriate and respectful choice for the victims as well as the audiences. Having puppeteers behind the human puppet created this environment of communication where the accounts were being listened to. I think Kentridge’s staging of the witnesses brought to life the real 1994-96 Truth and Reconciliation Commission where audiences were either present or watching on their televisions – the witnesses were made central to the TRC.
I must stress that the play is better understood visually than textually. I read the play first before viewing it and it was a rather confusing experience, the only parts I understood were the verbatim testimonies.
Why did I read/see it?
This text was a part of my university reading/viewing list for my Theatre Studies.
Has the theatre company produced other plays?
Handspring Productions has produced Or You Could Kiss Me by National Theatre, Episodes of An Easter Rising by David Lytton, and Faustus in Africa (an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus).
The text was particularly upsetting to read, so I advise taking care when reading. I would highly recommend viewing the play online before reading the play, as the performance is simply amazing and surprising at times.
– Melissa Jennings