Curated by writer, academic, and playwright Jane Taylor, Season 4 of The Centre for the Less Good Idea takes the shape of a Collapsed Conference – a series of talks, presentations and ideas all told through performance.
SALT | Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana
The use of a minimal set is an often-overlooked element in theatre. Some good lighting, a strong script, and a compelling performance often show us how an empty stage can become the site of some truly brilliant theatre. Salt, a performance for Season 4 of The Centre for the Less Good Idea, proves this on multiple levels.
Written and performed by collaborative theatre-making duo Billy Langa and Mahlatsi Mokgonyana, Salt is a performed presentation on the history of the white crystalline substance that finds reference and meaning in biblical texts, historic wars, global currencies, and everyday events. These histories are told through a text that is both dense and abstract, but nonetheless comprehensive.
Langa, who penned the piece, makes use of restrained humour to undercut both the performance, as well as the sometimes-overwhelming contents of the text. The physical performance itself – a restricted, but refined use of the body that takes place on a chair positioned on a small wooden sphere-turned-stage – is used by Langa to both mimic and replace the text. Mokgonyana’s direction of the work is key, and on multiple occasions sees the convergence of text and performance. A perfect example sees Langa, lying flat on the chair before raising his body slowly, almost painfully, while delivering an uninterrupted reading of the moment Edith – the woman referred to only as ‘Lot’s wife’ in the Bible – is turned to a rigid and bound pillar of salt.
Lighting and sound are crucial to the performance, with Langa purposefully drawings the audience’s attention to both elements. Soundtracks are muted, almost non-existent throughout, before rising to near-cacophonic ends. Stage lights produce shadows, silhouettes, or floods of white, hot light that themselves appear to be crystal pillars or divine scripts.
Ultimately, Salt is as much a performance about history and information as it is about the act of restraint and struggle. It’s a performance that examines what happens to an argument or a line of thought when broken out of their conventional mediums, and it captures the difficult and often infuriating practice of conveying things such as raw emotion or spoken language through language and the body, respectively. And it is in this process that many things are lost or left behind, but it is also through the witnessing of such a struggle that you begin to adopt new languages and means of interpretation – the way the human body can become a vehicle for stories, rather than acting as a tool to convey fragments of that same story.
For the full version of SALT please go to: https://vimeo.com/300947383
Writer and Performer | Billy Langa
Director and Performer | Mahlatsi Mokgonyana
Sound | Ntuthuko Mbuyazi
Associated institutions | Junkets Publishers, Arts and Culture Trust, Theatre arts admin collective, Market Theatre Laboratory.
Animateur for The Centre | Bronwyn Lace
Cinematography and Editor | Noah Cohen
Project Manager | Shruthi Nair
Lights | Wesley France and Guy Nelson
Sound | SoulFire Studios and Zain Vally
Stage Management | Hayleigh Evans and PopArt Productions
Writer | Dave Mann