It has been almost three decades since the end of Apartheid in South Africa, but its lasting damage remains in forms of institutionalised and systemic racism across the world. Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act, now playing at The Orange Tree Theatre, is set at the height of South Africa’s brutal regime of racial segregation.
This may be one of Fugard’s least produced plays, but that can’t be because it lacks any form of gravitas, quite the opposite is true. Initially it presents as a love story, but that love is between a Black man and a White woman and was strictly forbidden in Apartheid South Africa. The couple secretly meet in the library where she works, but are eventually reported by a neighbour.
The play switches following the couple’s arrest under the ‘Immorality Act’ a law that appalled, and was ridiculed by, the international community, to the statements made to arresting officers and at the trial. Intertwining monologues examine the complex nature of the relationship and expose attitudes of the time.
Fugard’s script struggles in places, its weighty text detracting from the actual relationship, making it difficult to identify with the characters. Neither is it always easy to follow, as the characters switch between accuser and accused and timelines become blurred.
Where the script lacks passion, the cast make up for it, Shaq Taylor and Scarlett Brookes as Errol Philander and Frieda Joubert give strong and engaging performances. Taylor in particular brims with an anger and defiance that is strangely compelling.
Richard Sutton’s brief appearances as Detective Sergeant J. du Preez, reflect the hatred and disdain of the era, as he spits out sheer disdain in every direction.
Designer, Niall McKeever, has dispensed with the traditional library for a set, instead opting for nothing but a large hole carved out of the Orange Tree’s stage. It provides an interesting focal point for the forbidden lovers to slip in and out of, and in later parts of the play forces them in to the fringes of the audience. In the absence of any real set, Rajiv Pattani’s impressive lighting design paints stunning scenes.
This production of Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act is directed by JMK Award Winner, Diane Page. Clearly influenced by the text, Page has captured fear, injustice and discrimination in the very fabric of the play. Errol and Frieda rarely come together on stage, mirroring the harsh laws that kept them apart. Gone too is the prolonged nudity that normally features in this work, replaced instead with a more discreet way of demonstrating the intimate nature of the relationship.
Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act can be hard work for its audience, but realistically it’s supposed to be. Thanks to the nuanced performances, and intuitive direction, the play endures as a highly relevant piece of drama.
Statements After an Arrest Under the Immortality Act is at The Orange Tree Theatre until 2nd October 2021. Tickets are on sale here