Music, it is said, can calm the savage beast but in Ubom!’s latest production, Breed, it also incites killer instincts. Bach’s cello and violin pieces take centre stage in a powerful work that revolves around the growling of a pit bull terrier.
While we never see the dog, his snarling is an ever-present and sinister force behind a gate that segregates an Afrikaner from the squatters on his farm. That the male lead, played by Andrew Buckland, is a Boer is made clear from his first expressive steps and facial contortions. That his walking is taking him nowhere is implied by the exertion extended in one spot on the stage.
Enter the strains of Bach, and the scene moves from a cosy farm kitchen and music room, to the gate behind which the dog Vleis lurks, and then to the living area of the squatters that drive the obsession of the Boer. That is all we can call him as his name is never mentioned in this version of the evolving production. His daughter Pearl, acted by Ilana Cilliers, teaches music to township children, as did her deceased mother. To say that our Boer is against these activities is to underestimate the depth of his racist hatred.
Like snakes through glue
Much comic activity revolves around the gate, some of it resorting to slap-stick humour. However, the emphasis around the metaphorical barrier, while necessary to the unfolding of the narrative, does give the production a slow start. The use of English and isiXhosa is both the play’s strength and weakness.
The cast is at its most superb in a scene revolving around Bach’s Air on the G-String. The squatters, Umama and her daughter Nonzondulelo, have taken in two boarders: the striking and garish Beyonce, and the other a nameless male. In exquisitely executed slow motion, the four of them weave around one another like snakes through glue, all going after one plate of food. In the end, ubuntu wins and the meagre meal is shared.
Another theme in Breed is water. The Boer has cut off the squatters’ water, forcing them to the borehole where he now keeps Vleis. It is here that we discover that Nonzondulelo has the ability to sing Vleis into submission. She sings a tune from Bach; a song her mother has taught her. The Boer summons Umama and demands she sing the song. She refuses.
In the end, it is destruction and not procreation that wins out; as in all good theatre, the denouement comes sharp and clean. One minute there is celebration, laughter and hope; the next, darkness and destruction. The breed of the play’s title is, after all, a noun referring to the mixture of killer dogs that make up the pit bull, and not the verb to procreate.
Breed, an original production of the Ubom! Eastern Cape Drama Company, is a collaboration between Janet Buckland and Brink Scholtz.
This piece is from Cue Online, a project of Rhodes University’s New Media Lab.