Play unmasks Grahamstown water crisis

Cast members of 'Waterline'. Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA
Cast members of ‘Waterline’.

A SATIRICAL play about Grahamstown’s water crisis chose a powerful way of delivering its message – by saying nothing.

Instead of getting bogged down in dialogue, the seven actors in Waterline tell their story from behind masks, accompanied by recorded music and without a word.

A collaboration between Rhodes University PhD student Rob Murray – who researches masks and non-verbal performance – and township actors, the idea for the play came about last year at the height of a water crisis.

“We went weeks without water. People were unhappy about it and there were even protests,” Murray said. Like many others, he had to trek out of town to a fresh water spring and join long lines of people queuing to fill their bombozis (bottles) to take home to survive.

“It reminded me of the lines of people waiting to vote in the 1994 elections,” he said.

He said it was sad to see people queuing for water, a basic human right, 21 years into democracy.

The masks and non-verbal communication allow the audience to respond to the comic drama unfolding according to their own life situations and experiences, he said.

It tells the story of a young man on a quest to find water to win back his beloved, but audiences can easily spot the themes of corruption, greed and crooked politicians as actors disappear off stage to change masks and clothes before returning to continue.

Murray said the play was completely collaborative. that The seven actors had contributed their real-life experiences of living without water.

Although there have been no major water shortages at the festival this year, there have been problems before.

Lack of expertise, poor financial planning and ageing infrastructure have been identified as some of the causes – and evidence is everywhere.

Outside the NG Kerk this week a repair job was seemingly abandoned and a flooded manhole left open, with water running down the pavement.

Waterline is on at the NG Kerk at 10am today and Saturday and noon on Sunday, and features at the schools’ festival next week.

-David Macgregor

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