Powerful devised show about the protest that removed a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the University of Cape Town
As recently seen in the US, statues can become high-stakes reminders of a country’s painful past, signs of wounds far from healed. ‘The Fall’ is a company-devised piece exploring the 2015 student protest at South Africa’s University of Cape Town, demanding that a statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from campus.
The Baxter Theatre Centre’s production arrives at the Royal Court Upstairs after winning a clutch of awards at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It’s largely pulled together from the experiences of its cast and co-creators, the majority of whom were student members of the Rhodes Must Fall movement that first occupied university buildings.
This is an energising show, performed by its seven actors in song to a foot-stomping rhythm, capturing the heady rush of finding a cause to fight for. On a bare set, they beat out their anger at institutional racism in the education system and the double standards still slyly applied to whites and blacks in South Africa, from what students are taught about history, to workers’ pay.
There’s real power here, as each performer takes their turn in the spotlight to give their own perspective, interspersed with recreated debates from the sit-in. What adrenalises this show are the differences it splits open between the students depending on their background. It’s not a tidy portrait of people unified by a common cause. It’s a microcosm of struggle.
It’s also a funny, humane piece of work. Sure, there’s an element of self-consciousness at play as the cast throw out the names of political theorists as they furiously debate the need for the de-colonisation of education in South Africa. But it’s framed by an affectionate self-awareness that roots all of this in a passion, bravery and determination that will have you on your feet and clapping until your hands hurt.