sat 13/07/2024

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre review - a blast from the past with lessons for today | reviews, news & interviews

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre review - a blast from the past with lessons for today

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre review - a blast from the past with lessons for today

Forty-nine years on, Fugard's anger has lost none of its ferocity

Shaq Taylor and Scarlett Brookes circle each otherImages - Helen Maybanks

Even if you miss the play’s title and do not recognise the writer’s name with the heft of reputation that comes with it, as soon as you see the black man and the white woman speaking in South African accents, you know that the tension that electrifies the air between them is real.

"No normal sport in an abnormal society” was the rally cry of those boycotting the Apartheid regime, but there was no normal love, either – until, incredibly, the mid-80s. Yes, the mid-80s.

Diane Page’s revival of Athol Fugard’s Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act at the Orange Tree Theatre howls across nearly half a century into a world in which states largely eschew the crude banality of Apartheid legislation, but find other ways to marginalise minorities through voting laws, culture wars and denial of timely access to resources, especially if you’re a refugee. Page, winner of the JMK Award for 2021, has made a play for our times.

The couple, hot and sweaty after sex, can’t quite believe that they’re together and look back 12 months to how the virginal librarian (Frieda) and the married head teacher (Errol) met, chatted, found that elusive spark that can come any time to anyone, and then transgressed the Immorality Act. Sure, they understand each other physically, but the black man’s journey to the white woman’s world is more than a clandestine walk through hostile terrain, it’s a journey from a solidarity born of systemic black deprivation (his township is running out of water) to one of white plenty. Frieda’s accusation of “pride” as the reason for Errol’s refusal of a donation of her water immediately lifts him out of the personal and into the structural realm of inequality, the playwright turning proselytiser. 

They are shopped by a nosy neighbour (a surveillance state never wants for voluntary support) and are subjected to the gruesome paraphernalia of police investigation. Photographs, the medium by which love today is celebrated on Instagram, become the means to prove that the allegations are true and lead to Errol’s and Frieda’s statements referred to in the title. Life, as it does under all fascist states, becomes an inversion of reality, one in which love is forbidden and hate required. Shaq Taylor and Scarlett Brookes in STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST...Shaq Taylor and Scarlett Brookes (pictured above) dial up the intensity to the max – and then some – one moment wrapped around each other, the next barking out an argument that can never be resolved as they start in such diametrically opposed places. Taylor’s character is the more recognisable and, perhaps, we warm more to his performance as a result – the intellectual held back by his circumstances who peeps over the walls that imprison him and takes his chance. Brookes doesn’t quite capture a character who is tricky to pin down. What makes her risk everything? How, in her mid-30s, is she so unworldly? How could she have thought that they could get away with going to the same place for sex day after day?

Richard Sutton grimly provides evidence of their affair in that time-honoured way of the police state’s policeman, the pitch of voice, the level of detail, the language registering the same whether describing a parking offence, a conspiracy to murder or a lovers’ assignation. Another reminder that the mechanisms of repression are baked into government apparatus the world over and hence always available.

With its overly strong accents, in-the-round staging and relentless, inevitable spiralling into misery, this is not an easy watch, a gruelling 75 minutes that bounces you from the 1970s to the 2020s as the parallels pile up. Looking around the audience, some might say it’s preaching to the converted, those who, like me, cannot walk through Trafalgar Square without visions of the 24-hour protest outside the South African Embassy swimming into our minds. But, as we’ve found out recently in Brazil, in Hungary, in France, in the USA, even in the UK, there might not be as many of us converted as we’d like to think. All this happened – and it can happen again.        

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters