Mpumelo Paul Grootboom: 'Theatre climate in South Africa has many taboos'

September 2008 -

His play Township Stories was an enormous success and toured the entire world. The South African playwright and director is now working on a new production, Foreplay, based on Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler. Township Stories, which recently played at the Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival in Groningen, provides a hyper-realistic view of the townships near Pretoria, where crime, rape and intimidation determine the rhythm of daily life.


Scene from Township Stories

Grootboom – nicknamed Township Tarantino – presents that view with amateur actors. They act like their life depends on their performance, which could actually be the case. The combination of dance, music, acting and the film-like directing gives this play a certain lightness. The extreme violence shown in the play triggered lively discussions in South Africa. To Grootboom’s dismay. "It's silly to say that a play like this should not be performed elsewhere because it does not portray the right image of blacks. As if we cannot be critical of ourselves."

Many engaged theatre makers settle for preaching to their own parish. Grootboom works with the South African State Theatre, a venue that does not solely cater to the well-educated. "The theatre climate in South Africa has many taboos. You cannot, for example, blatantly expose corruption because that would put your life at risk. As a theatre maker, if you are heard by the audience you hope to reach, it is encouraging and stimulating." Grootboom is working on his newest play in South Africa but its premiere will be in the Netherlands, during the Afrovibes Festival.

He started reading plays by the Austrian playwright Schnitzler after seeing Eyes wide shut, Kubrick's film based on Traumnovelle. Grootboom: "Schnitzler is fascinated by the instincts that fuel many people but unavoidably cause much damage. The fact that this makes love and sex unemotional is something many South Africans recognise. It is my hope that my staging will get people thinking about their sexual morals."

Foreplay has its world premiere October 1, 2008 in The Hague during the Afrovibes Festival.