Since US president Donald Trump took office, the issue of refugees has been at the forefront of many a conversation. Should we build a wall to keep people out? Should we allow the freedom of movement? Are some people, as the novel Animal Farm proclaims, more equal than others?
When Swallows Cry, by acclaimed writer Mike van Graan, cuts into these issues in a deeply emotional and provocative way. This play, currently showing at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, doesn’t shy away from addressing the pain, instead it rips the bandages off and exposes the wound to the world — the suffering of refugees.
“There is now much talk of building walls, erecting real and metaphorical fences to halt the flow of people in search of better, safer and longer lives,” Van Graan writes in the programme. He continues: “For governments these are political and economic challenges, informed by faceless statistics. And yet at the root of this forced and voluntary mobility, are very real human stories.”
This notion is omnipresent in this powerful play. Three different stories play off in three different countries and each is a moving depiction of the real-life struggles of refugees. There’s the capture of a Canadian citizen for a ransom, the deportation of refugees in Australia and the refusal of entry of a Somalian citizen into the USA.
Each one of these stories aims to make the audience uncomfortable as it is riddled with xenophobia, racism and prejudice. Van Graan is genius in his take on white privilege and the many forms it comes in. Ultimately a black life from an African country is worth much less than a white life from a developed country, and from the get-go that incongruence is escalated by refusal to enter the system of the privileged.
The three actors Mbulelo Grootboom, Martin Kintu and Kai Luke Brummer, gave stellar performances and their transitions between the different scenes seem effortless. Kintu especially stood out; he immersed himself in each character and embodied the physicality without falling into cliché. From a dangerous leader to a humble Somalian immigrant, Kintu convinces the audience of his transformation.
Director Lesedi Job’s minimal use of space and props allows for an unpretentious experience — it is stripped to the essentials and one is forced to focus on the human lives touched by a deeply unjust system. The last sequence on stage is the use of shadows, this is one of the best uses of this form, that I have ever seen. It’s effective and touches your core.
The show is running at the Baxter Theatre from 31 January – 24 February 2018. Show starts at 8pm.
3 Feb – 5:00 pm
10 Feb – 5:00 pm
17 Feb – 5:00 pm