Artists Review Other Artists: Andrew Edwards on The Baxter Theatre Season

13 August 2017

I don’t really know too much about the cultural landscape of South Africa, its lineages, traditions, spaces of conflict. It was because of this ignorance that I was I was quite delighted Assembly asked me to check out their season of work from the Baxter Theatre at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Mental Health is a prominent theme at this year’s Festival. Our show-and-subject-neighbours Mental have written on this subject for this blog and its clear that there’s a lot of work on at Assembly focused on raising awareness about how our minds work and how we can best care for each other and ourselves during periods of ill-health. The Baxter Theatre is no exception, presenting Lara Foot’s The Inconvenience of Wings – a three-hander about bipolar disorder.

Perhaps what is most interesting about this work – and incidentally is something we’ve aspired to do in our own – is how it presents mental health within a wider context, as something that happens between people. In the world of Lara Foot’s play definitions such as ‘ill’ and ‘well’ move more fluidly and it can be difficult to describe “who has what.” In relationships the dynamic of who is caring and who is being cared for is one that changes at pace, causing people to collide off one another in unexpected ways. It is a portrait of mental health that feels really contemporary, really useful to audiences both here and further afield.

The Baxter Theatre - a self-described entertainment hub at the foot of the University of Cape Town - became something of a household name following the success of Yael Farber’s widely acclaimed production/adaptation of Mies Julie at the 2012 festival (re-staged for this year’s festival and definitely very very good). Yet the theatre’s history is of course much richer than that, more complex. Originating during the apartheid era, the Baxter became a space for work which challenged the then views of the Nationalist government – using its ties to the University of Cape Town as a strategy to present multiracial, progressive work.

The work that I was able to see of this season exemplifies that this positioning, this strategy, is still going strong - and indeed is both reactive to and taking the lead in contemporary discourse. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Fall: All Rhodes Lead to Decolonisation, an ensemble piece that documents the student demonstrations and #RhodesMustFall / #FeesMustFall movements that swept across South Africa (and across the globe) in 2015.

The work is energetic, passionate and above all else, complicated. Race, class, gender, sexism, colonialism and the ideologies of patriarchy – that’s quite a lot to fit into one play, yet this ensemble move with lightness, not bound to answering questions but offering out an invitation to have a dialogue.

To draw attention to an audience’s ignorance and perhaps predispose them to becoming less ignorant in the future is an incredible impact for a piece of work to have. Seeing this work performed in the UK, where education about the practices of colonisation and their long-standing (and continuing) impact is relatively poor, The Fall is vital – and well worth your time and money if you have either to spare over the month. At the very least it is a prompt to pick up a book – and as one of the performer’s remarks – to start educating yourself.

Learn more about The Incovenience of Wings, Mies Julie, The Fall and the entire Baxter Theatre Season here!

Find more about Andrew Edwards and his work Scribble, joining Assembly Festival from 3 – 27 August at Assembly Roxy - Downstairs @ 15:50. See more of Scribble here!