Speaking the unspoken

Originally published in Cue.

Filled with the testimony of perpetrators, victims and witnesses of the xenophobic attacks that rocked the nation in May 2008, The Line has already been nominated for five Naledi Awards. Writer and director Gina Shmukler created the piece from research for her Masters in Drama at Wits University.

Almost every line is taken verbatim from hours of interviews she recorded with 12 people directly affected by the violence. Only six of the interviewees were used in the final production.

The only person whose real name is used is photojournalist Nadine Hutton, the former pictures editor at the Mail & Guardian, whose photos are included in the set of The Line. She is portrayed by Gabi Harris, who also takes turns as Shmukler and as a translator for other interviewees.

Harris comes to the role of Hutton with a startling amount of sympathy and her portrayal is spot-on. Hutton was unable to work as a photojournalist for almost a year after photographing the xenophobic attacks. Harris exposes the audience to this trauma with honesty and sensitivity. Khutjo Green plays four characters, victims and perpetrators, bringing gravitas and vulnerability in equal measure to the roles. Green and Harris are dynamite together.

In relaying one of the defining moments of the post-apartheid era word-for-word from people directly involved in it, The Line is not without precedent. It has echoes of Jane Taylor and William Kentridge’s seminal work Ubu and the Truth Commission as well as Milo Rau’s Hate Radio, a re-enactment of the broadcasts of the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines station before and during the Rwandan genocide.

The Line is chilling, terrifying and heartbreaking. It is compulsory viewing for all South Africans.

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