The Fall - review
Royal Court Theatre

Words by: Lindsay Johns | Published: Friday, September 29, 2017 9:58 AM
Front Ameera Conrad, Back Cleo Raatus, Oarabile Ditsele, Thando Mangcu, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi Front Ameera Conrad, Back Cleo Raatus, Oarabile Ditsele, Thando Mangcu, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi

Fresh from being rightly feted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Fall, by a collection of 8 South African university drama students, is a visceral, eloquent and exceedingly moving dramatisation of the Rhodes Must Fall controversy which occurred at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in March 2015 and which subsequently took the world by storm.


Poignant, thought-provoking, rage-inducing, incisive, elegiac, funny in places and brilliantly acted, The Fall wholly deserves all the fulsome praise it has hitherto garnered.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Rhodes Musn’t Fall. And yet, I thought this play was a tremendous dramatic achievement. Moreover, as someone with black (Coloured) South African family in Cape Town who were there when the student protests started, I was pleasantly surprised by the way in which the story of this problematic and controversial movement was represented on stage.


The Fall recounts, through searing monologues and heated group discussions, the student protests to remove the statue on campus of unrepentant British imperialist Cecil Rhodes and the ensuing vitriolic debates about “decolonization of the curriculum” - a protest against the overwhelmingly Eurocentric nature of the education syllabus in South Africa and also Fees Must Fall, which demanded the abolition of university fees.


Oarabile Ditsele, Ameera Conrad, Sizwesandisile  Mnisi, Tankiso Mamabolo, Cleo Raatus, Sihle Mnqwazana Oarabile Ditsele, Ameera Conrad, Sizwesandisile Mnisi, Tankiso Mamabolo, Cleo Raatus, Sihle Mnqwazana

Poignant, thought-provoking, rage-inducing, incisive, elegiac, funny in places and brilliantly acted, The Fall wholly deserves all the fulsome praise it has hitherto garnered.


Grappling with perennially timely issues of racial injustice and the painful legacy of colonialism in post-apartheid South Africa, The Fall firstly makes us question how we ought to remember the past. Should Rhodes' statue be removed because of its pernicious symbolism or is tearing down statues fascistic and essentially cosmetic, a superficial response which does nothing to address the fundamental root causes of racial and economic injustice which blight the country?


Whilst being a partisan take on proceedings (which by its nature fails to represent the views of many middle-class and older Coloured and African people who despise white supremacy yet who do not feel the need to tear down historical statues to make themselves feel better about South Africa’s manifold injustices),The Fall eloquently articulates not only the crushing burden of the colonial legacy on young black South Africans, but also righteous black pain and rage at hundreds of years of dispossession, brutality and dehumanization at the hands of white South Africans.


Front Ameera Conrad, Tamkiso Mamabolo, Back Sizwesandile Mnisi,Cleo Raatus,Sihle Mnqwazana, Thando Mangcu Front Ameera Conrad, Tamkiso Mamabolo, Back Sizwesandile Mnisi,Cleo Raatus,Sihle Mnqwazana, Thando Mangcu

The acting is very accomplished - the raw thespian talent on show in this production is humbling and merited the standing ovations

Functioning within the rich tradition of South African protest theatre and of quasi-Brechtian agit-prop, The Fall overflows with the ardent passion, youthful fervour and painful idealism of the student protesters keen to assuage their desire to right colonial wrongs. And yet we also witness the in-fighting, the constant bickering and the ideological disagreements about gender-roles in the movement, the oppressive nature of African patriarchy, the prevalence of rape and of who should sit exams or boycott them - all depicted with refreshing honesty.


Whilst some of the opinions espoused by the student protesters are at times painfully Manichean (as is often still the case in post-apartheid South Africa), others have more intellectual rigour and complexity, which makes the play both satisfying and enjoyable to watch.


With its blend of evocative Xhosa liberation chants, frenetic boot dancing, the constant shuffling of the student marchers and a starkly effective bare stage, The Fall beautifully depicts the realities of SA demonstration marches and student political engagement.


Front Sizwesandile, Back Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Cleo Raatus, Sihle Mnqwazana, Thando Mangcu Front Sizwesandile, Back Ameera Conrad, Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Cleo Raatus, Sihle Mnqwazana, Thando Mangcu

However, my only (personal) lament was that the play did not adequately address the tensions in the movement between Coloureds and Africans (one throw away line in no way did justice to the topic) and an overwhelmingly Afrocentric production resulted, despite Cape Town being a majority Coloured city.


Whatever my feelings about the intellectually misguided nature of the student protest itself, the production (which started at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town) is remarkably self-assured and nuanced. The acting is very accomplished - the raw thespian talent on show in this production is humbling and merited the standing ovations.


Packing a lasting and unsettling emotional punch, The Fall should be seen by all - white and black, South African and non-South African alike - in the hope that we can all better understand a movement which continues to shake the foundations of our modern world and thankfully continues to intellectually challenge the evils of white supremacy.



Info: The Fall is at the Royal Court Theatre until 14 Oct 2017 / see listing / book tickets (limited availability) / read e-newsletter




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