Tableaux in Red: Oil on Canvas 1976 by the Selborne College drama society has been a hit with the crowds at the National Arts Festival. The play brings a fresh and thoughtful way to excavate the nation’s painful history, which continues to haunt us today.
It tells the tale of a painter who tries to find the best way to capture and portray the events of one of the country’s most historic moments – June 16 1976.
The barely lit Glennie Hall stage was propped with barbed wire and wood plates; a wooden table and chairs in one corner, and an artist’s bare studio decorated with just an easel and canvas. The lighting in the room switched from black, to white, to red, symbolising flashbacks connecting the painter to the past.
The artist, in a shirt covered in blood, is on a journey to best capture the horrific tale.
His attempts to paint and repaint are marred with flashbacks of how the 1976 events unfolded: a policeman shooting at pupils with placards demanding the removal of Afrikaans from Bantu education; dead bodies lying on the ground in the aftermath; a young boy looking for his scattered family; a man reading a newspaper reporting what had transpired.
The different scenes are acted out in precision by the drama society boys, with the painter placing himself at the heart of it all in order to relive and experience the moments for himself.
As he attempts, erases and re-attempts his work, he ends up producing 12 sketches which emotionally capture the aftermath of events and the emotional impact on those who were involved.
As the show comes to a climax, the painter communicates his final dream – to sketch and see an image of hope and restoration for a new South Africa.
The writer and director of the play, Jo Stemmet, said: “The boys are excited about the opportunity they’ve received to experience first-hand what the arts industry is like. It has been an extremely valuable learning experience for them.”