Bitter leaves bad taste

Originally published in Cue.

If the measure of a controversial play is how much of the audience has left by the time the curtains close, then Bitteris doing well. The play’s title references the provocative Afrikaans comic strip Bitterkomix, a certain amount of controversy is to be expected. Bitter delivers beyond the 16+ age restriction.

Stellenbosch University’s contribution to the Student Theatre Festival starts off tamely enough, masquerading as an art installation that the audience is forced to walk through to get to their seats.

Cast members offer pieces of their flesh (crumbled Ouma rusks) while others march in repetitive patterns around  the stage.

There is nothing to warn viewers on how far director Wolf Brits has pushed the boundaries of the age restriction.

Even the projected stock footage of car crash tests and the metal trunk draped in the old South African flag, which is soon pulled back to reveal a large dildo, seems acceptable.

It is only when five members of the on-stage cast strip down entirely that the first pangs of doubt begin.

As the three actresses kneel down at the front of the stage and begin painting their bodies with lipstick and moaning sexually, jaws start dropping.

As their male counterparts stand directly behind them and spray semen (coconut milk) all over them (and most of the front row), portions of the audience migrate en masse for the exits.

Despite dealing with interesting theme of language, violence and what it means to be a modern South African, the shocking nature of Bitter may actually simply be too much for most audiences to handle.

This production needs an explicit sexual content warning. Visibly shaken schoolchildren were taken out of the performance by their teachers.

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