The South Afreakins is a duologue performed as a monologue, a two-hander expertly performed by a single actor. And, my word, it’s really very good indeed.
Robyn Paterson is a playwright and actor, and she’s clearly talented in both fields. This piece, inspired by her parents’ immigration from South Africa to New Zealand, is all about displacement and belonging, and the difficult relationship so many immigrants have with ‘home’ (is it where you live or where you’re from, where you fall in love or where you lose someone?). We see Gordon and Helene, newly retired, scared by the violence erupting in South Africa, and keen to start a new life elsewhere. New Zealand appeals to Helene far more than to Gordon; he wants to stay where his roots are. But Helene refuses to live in fear; she knows she’ll be poorer in New Zealand – no servants for her there! – but she wants to live a peaceful life. And Gordon loves her, of course he does, and so he goes along.
Paterson switches effortlessly between characters; a simple shift in the body language, a tilt of the head or a shrug of the shoulders, and we know exactly who she is supposed to be. It’s captivating; we are completely drawn into their story, and our emotions are wrapped up in theirs.
It seems a simple tale, but it covers a lot. There’s a lightness of touch which means that, although it’s not the focus of the piece, Helene’s instinctive racism is exposed, as well as her wish to deny it, even to herself. We know that the violence that frightens Helene is that of the oppressed rising up against the oppressor, and we know that Helene represents the oppressor here. But she is just a woman, living the life she was born into, coping, like we all cope, with the cards we are dealt.
It’s a subtle, thought-provoking piece, that has us laughing and then stops us short. I highly recommend you catch it while you can. It’s only here in Edinburgh for three more days!