Back Row Writing: Review of Ashes

Back Row Writing is a new section of the Telegraph where we publish the opinions and views of theatre lovers. Some of them are in the industry, some are friends, some are audience members, all have ideas they want to share. Some are anonymous, some use a nom de plume, some just go by their regular every day name. For more on why we started this platform, see Finding the Voices.

Ashes“We’re people. They’re people. I’m people.”

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Stefan Erasmus photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

Reviewed by A Girl.

Drama • Running Time: 60 mins
Written and directed by Philip Rademeyer | Presented by Rust Co-Operative | Performed by Stefan Erasmus and Jason Jacobs

8 – 20 June 2015

Presented by the award winning Rust Co-operative, Ashes is about a boy, a young man but a mother’s forever little boy, who experiences the very worst of the human condition. The play explores what it is to be a gay man in South Africa and was inspired by true events; specifically three violent attacks in the Western and Northern Cape last year. The two-hander visits moments, people and memories through the eyes of six characters and these fragments are pieced together to create a haunting whole.

 

Philip Rademeyer, who wrote and directed Ashes, is clearly a lover of words, each one feeling as though it was selected with the utmost care and consideration. The use of simple props and costumes created not only multiple settings and times, but a sense of timelessness and isolation. There is a sensitivity that can be felt from all aspects of the production including the gentle sounds of seagulls that would fade in or the use of simple lighting to shift our focus moment to moment. I particularly loved the use of sand and the images and symbolism it conjured.

 

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Jason Jacobs photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

Ashes is a powerful commentary on homosexuality but it has the ability to reach further. Ashes questions how we define masculinity and femininity, echoed in the use of two male actors who both express female perspectives. With the rise of movements in support and against transsexuals, gay marriages and equal pay for women this play becomes an invitation to consider that all these issues are connected to the same dilemma: by what characteristics do we define what it is to be male or female and why does it evoke so much anger and hatred from those who see them as mutually exclusive.

 

I felt that there were strong performances from both actors (Stefan Erasmus and Jason Jacobs) but I found myself wanting them to invest more in each respective character; to go further, give more and demand more of their audience. There were times where that happened but they seemed to struggle to keep the flow. Due to the subject matter, moments of comedy are necessary to give the audience a moment to breathe. However, due to the lack of energy a lot of comedic moments fell flat and towards the end of the 60min duration I was struggling to maintain focus.

 

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Jason Jacobs and Stefan Erasmus photo by Nardus Engelbrecht

Regardless of your sexual orientation, Ashes puts forward that hate crimes affect all of us; we may be individuals but we are connected together, even just by fragments. I have to admit: it took me a good while to digest the many thoughts thought and feelings felt after watching Ashes. I caught myself contemplating one particular line as I was driving the following day: “we’re people. They’re people. I’m people”. The words seem to scream and demand that we are all fundamentally the same yet there are so many who fall short of acceptance, even in 2015. This is not a play to be watched passively and has the potential to be immensely powerful.