Edinburgh Festival Fringe: In Josette Bushell-Mingo’s great show about Nina Simone, playing at the Traverse this week, one of the highlights is her version of Simone’s 1968 song Revolution, written at the height of the American civil rights movement.
Assembly Hall (Venue 35)
Tshepang: The Third Testament
Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)
The Inconvenience Of Wings
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)
And in The Fall, presented at the Assembly Hall by Baxter Theatre at the University of Cape Town, Edinburgh audiences can catch a glimpse of that same revolution still in progress 50 years on, driven by rage and disgust at the continuing racism that still scars the world, and at the colonial attitudes that go with it.
So on a bare stage sometimes backed by contemporary news footage, a young cast of seven (three men, three women, one trans) re-enact the moment, in April 2015, when a statue of the white colonialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from the campus of the University of Cape Town; and then take us deep into the open debates – about revolution and violence, race, gender and machismo, access to higher education, and the decolonising both of the curriculum and of recruitment – that drove and sometimes divided the young Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
Written by the cast with Kgomotso Khunoane, the show pulses with life, and with the kind of passionate song and movement first glimpsed on the Edinburgh Fringe more than three decades ago, during the last years of apartheid.
What makes The Fall remarkable, though, is its combination of that pure physical energy with a uniquely vital, detailed and profound political argument about how – so many years on – real decolonisation and freedom is to be achieved.
And if some of the young revolutionaries remain hopeful, others seem close to despair; facing huge political and personal decisions at a heartbreakingly early age, and compelling reasons for action, that, as one female student puts it, “won’t let me live a normal life”.
The Fall is just one of a series of six productions brought to Edinburgh this year by the Baxter Theatre; and the same combination of race and gender politics is present in Tshepang: The Third Testament, a shattering, beautifully performed play by Lara Foot about the terrible phenomenon of infant rape in South Africa. In a small town in the veldt where “nothing much happens”, Simon – powerfully played by Mincedisi Shabangu – tells the story of his partner Ruth, and of how she fell silent after the near-fatal rape of her baby daughter.
Ruth is also on stage throughout, her grief-stricken presence magnificently conveyed by Nonceba Constance Didi, and if the play struggles to find the right visual language to convey the physical detail of the case – and if it feels strange to watch a play about rape in which only a male voice is heard – the sheer grieving power of this text makes it unforgettable, full of insight and horror.
There’s another powerful performance from Mincedisi Shabangu in Baxter Theatre’s award-winning play The Inconvenience Of Wings, at Assembly George Square Studios; but here, he plays the third side of a complex love-triangle dominated by the heroine Sara, played in an acclaimed performance by Jennifer Steyn.
Also written by Lara Foot, The Inconvenience Of Wings moves backwards through time as it tells the story of Sara’s life-long struggle with bipolar disorder; and of the impact of her illness on her husband Paul (Andrew Buckland), on their unseen children, and on their friend and neighbour James, who also loves Sara enough to accompany her through the hell she often experiences. There are some mismatches in the time-frame, but Steyn’s performance must be one of the finest on the Fringe, offering a tremendous, desperate insight into the toll mental illness takes not only on its victims, but also on those who love them, and whom they love in return.
The Fall until 27 August. Today 6:15pm.Tshepang until 27 August. Today 11:45am. The Inconvenience Of Wings until 27 August. Today 3:10pm.