From a bare stage sirens blare, search dogs bark and police rally as three men make a daring prison break. This is the opening sequence of The System, a tremendous powerhouse of physical theatre and new writing so fresh and vital it defies description. Five actors from Soweto, South Africa create a non-stop, mesmerising thrill ride, exploring not only the escape but the issues surrounding imprisonment; the impact on the families and friends left behind, the abuse of the incarcerated and the incidence of false imprisonment.
Already a compelling story, what sets this production so far above the rest is the use of physical theatre and vocal landscape. The striking image of the stark, bare stage is quickly replaced with a montage of physical sculptures, created by these immensely creative and highly energized actors. Even the soundscape, sirens, dogs, microphones, ambient sounds and hauntingly beautiful music are created live and on stage by the actors. However far from a gratuitous theatrical device, the movement and sound is so finely integrated into the storytelling as to make each moment of creation an exciting subplot in itself. It is wonderful to witness international, innovative, exciting work which otherwise might not have a voice outside of South Africa.
The plot twists and turns with every new revelation: affairs, false arrests, the political impact of the death penalty. Yet it never gets bogged down with angst and though the stakes are incredibly high the seriousness of the subject is handled with humour and humanity, breaking the tension for the audience and setting up the heartbreak of the final revelation.
The high energy, incredibly physical and immensely committed performance offered by every member of this impressive ensemble left me breathless at the end and I really couldn’t imagine how they were able to sustain this level of intensity for a full hour. Poignant, powerful, hilarious and revolutionary, this is the show everyone must see. For information, for inspiration, for understanding, go to this production. One could easily overlook this show in the melee of the Fringe with its early morning 10:30am timeslot. Don’t! Set your alarm and start your day with the System.