A pink dystopia of delusions and frills speaks to SA’s canon of protest theatre

Buhle Ngaba and Klara van Wyk kneel at our feet as a crowd of mostly learners in winter school uniform and a handful of adults are ushered into Graeme College’s theatre to watch La Chair de Ma Chair. Miscellaneous pink objects varying from wheelbarrows, empty detergent bottles, two trampolines, step ladders and a tree are scattered across the stage to create their Pink Happiness dystopia. Their characters, Montsho and Lig, death stare the crowd as they take their seats. 

Montsho, played by Ngaba, means one of darkness in Setswana and Lig, played by van Wyk, translates to light in Afrikaans.

In their opening dialogue, each woman gives their account of how they arrived in the realm of pink nothingness. Montsho’s voice breaks in Setswana while her downtrodden eyes well up with tears of what could have been. Lig’ s Afrikaans monologue takes over and she reflects in an unfeeling almost bored tone of what was. They speak of a time not far from our now, where their faith in opposing ideas of democracy or vryheid have dissolved. Montsho reminds herself that no matter her efforts, history proves that light always seems to conquer darkness. She knows how it goes. 

Their outfits are Balenciaga and Commes des Garcon inspired runway looks made from disposable materials by costume stylist and fabricator Lieze van Tonder. Montsho wears a sleeveless coat, made from what looks like pink tissue or sanitary pad packets, that she constantly needs to readjust. Under this, she sports multiple shades of pink in her fanny pack, tights, shorts, a turtleneck and the confetti pins that play in her hair. Lig is more well put together in a purple and pink ruffle dress, made from orange sacks, and stockings that makes her look like a cloud that grew limbs, left the sky and floated to this limbo. 

La Chair De Ma Chair, meaning Flesh of My Flesh, questions the heritage of South Africa’s protest theatre by placing two womxn on stage in a post apocalyptic place where democracy didn’t work. A world that attempts to answer the question “was the struggle worth it?” with a pink clown act that says “no”.

Directed and designed by Penelope Youngleson, the hour long piece sees Montsho and Lug’s routines, to pass the time as they wait on a way out of the limbo, referencing male-centric works such as The Island, Woza Albert, and Waiting for Godot.

Ngaba and van Wyk, who have been practising clowning for some years, draw from traditional French schools and masters of clowning. Although Youngleson’s previous work did not use the medium of clowning, her collaboration with the new age clowns on the rise seems deliberate for the message.

Clowning is an accessible and non-preachy means to detangle the web of serious subjects in a theatre.

Lig and Montsho’s interactions are reminiscent of children at kindergarten level playing in the sandpit. They busy themselves with imaginary tasks, such as patrolling the realm for security purposes or peeling labels off containers, to give them a sense purpose. And when they tire from the tasks, they have sandpit like arguments where they almost sulk, throw toys, and cry when they don’t get their way like children. But these are not children. They are sensible adults in an unreasonable world, on opposing sides of what South Africa should have been.

So even though Lig and Montsho are indefinitely stuck in a pink manless realm without hope, we keep watching because even though it hurts, it’s pink, its young and funny. So we keep watching with wide attentive eyes and closed mouths.

We make it make sense

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Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa
Zaza Hlalethwa studies Digital Democracy, New Media and Political Activism, and Digital Politics.

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