Orange Tree Theatre, London – until 2 October 2021.
This passionate and thought-provoking play highlights the fragile love affair between a white woman and a black man set against the shadow and horror of the South African apartheid.
It is hard not only for someone who lives in 2021 as well as being a white person to really comprehend just exactly how terrible living under the spectre of the South African apartheid would have been for so many people. However, Athol Fugard’s intensely vivid play does give a powerful insight into a situation experienced by many.
Statements After An Arrest Under the Immorality Act follows the story Frieda, a librarian and Errol who comes to the library to do research. The pair meet and fall in love – but this relationship is complicated in many ways not least for the fact that Frieda is white and Errol is black which under the Immorality Act meant that their relationship was not only forbidden but also illegal that led to imprisonment.
Through monologues and conversations between the pair, interspersed with vicious diatribes from Detective Sergeant J. Du Preez, Fugard’s writing effectively explores themes of racism and class. It is a script that is pacy and almost too frantic in places as it jumps from each perspective in a edgy way. The audience is constantly absorbed into this terrifying existence that Frieda and Errol live in because they love each other.
This is all powerfully brought to life through Diane Page’s direct and edgy production that ramps up the tension beautifully to highlight the feelings of anger, despair and pain that shine throughout.
Elsewhere, at first Niall McKeever’s set design is slightly bewildering: a deep hole in which the cast begin in but then don’t use often except to find themselves teetering on the edge – a subtle hint of how far they have to fall when their relationship is discovered. Elsewhere, Rajiv Pattani’s lighting design is by turns suitably haunting but then equally intense – particularly during the climatic scenes in which Frieda and Errol are discovered to be having a relationship – it enhances the tension nicely – as does Esther Kehinde Ajayo’s subtle but ever present pulsating sound design.
At the centre of it all, the performances are all suitably impressive. In particular Shaq Taylor as Errol provides a dazzlingly powerful performance that is filled with passion, heart and anger to capture a character who is deeply thoughtful and intelligent. Every word that he utters takes the audience deeper into the way in which Errol thinks and is very cleverly conveyed that it is difficult not to be affected by it.
Elsewhere, Scarlett Brookes as Frieda offers a delicate but heartfelt performance – capturing a character who is in so many ways a deeply lonely character looking for affection and connection. He character could have been explored more in the writing as knowing more about her background would give more context on how these two were drawn to each other. Richard Sutton as the Detective Sergeant is suitably vicious and disdainful that sends chills down the spine as he recounts how he and the police discovered Errol and Frieda’s relationship was discovered.
Overall, this is an electrifying production, which while could use some slowing down the pace on occasion leaves the audience with plenty to think about long after the show has finished.
By Emma Clarendon
Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act continues to play at the Orange Tree Theatre until the 2nd October.