Review of The Coin by Hannah van Tonder
By Bulelwa Mthombothi
Staged at the State Theatre’s Sibusiso Kwinana theatre, this run of The Coin; written and directed by Hannah van Tonder ran from Friday the 3rd of September to Sunday, the 5th . The coin had been brought to Gauteng after a run in the Free State in June of this year. van Tonder’s prowess as a storyteller reaches new heights with every play, this one not being an exception. I left overwhelmed by the power of art and how easy it is to immerse oneself in its beauty when seeing or rather feeling its purpose and the labour that went into its making. She has given me the impression that she takes what she does seriously not only as art but as markings of our footprints. I always rave about how un-archival South Africa is which is also (in my uneducated opinion) why we have the collective memory of a gold fish. That is why I loved this show so much, it was a direct reflection of what we are currently living through by way of a lens of a future that might be if people with power don’t get their shit together. I wish that was digression but it is not.
Starting with music as is the norm with van Tonder’s work we see our characters standing in formation, as the music crescendos so then does the action start with… a coin. This coin a figurative and literal representation of the conflict, featuring as an ominous figure, the representation of capitalism if you will. Spoken about and followed around like it holds the future of many in its tiny clutches, which is unfortunately accurate. The play is a critique on capitalism, not unlike some we’ve seen before but with the added qualm of dystopia. Set
in the future, a time when the pandemic is still on-going, a scary thought even fictitious. As expected this future is bleak and poverty –ridden if the barren nature of the stage is a symbol of the scarcity we might live through. Homeless people selling plastic bags to sleep on for R350, it does not get more dystopian than that, unfortunately it’s not so far-fetched a reality, which is why it was so enjoyable to watch. I shed a tear when I realised what was happening it was like looking though a microscope or seeing clearly when the rain has gone, except it’s not a bright sunshiny day but rather a sobering realisation that there’s little
control we have or could ever have without money. As it’s what makes the world go round which is part of a short soliloquy given by the character Simon, a homeless man who in that scene represents a wisdom we fail to listen to until it’s too late, merely because its wrapped in riddles we care too little to figure out.
The main action occurs in the post office line, people socially distanced, cueing for the infamous R350. The diversity if people showcasing the government’s multiple failings, even in the future, to adequately provide for its citizens so much so that a 7th wave has occurred yet nothing sustainable has been done to uproot people out of poverty. So much hasn’t changed that the Minister, a character who is revealed to be a whistle-blower and was since fired, shows that scourge of corruption has not dissipated but rather grown even more detrimental. The emotional intelligence and compassion with which van Tonder wrote this play is what makes it so brilliant. Often poor people are written in a frustratingly
narrow lens with no context or care to their being but rather focusing solely on their poverty, the humanity in The Coin is palpable.
The actors do an impeccable job of giving conviction to the words, especially Charity; played by Mamello Makhetha whose performance gave way to vulnerability amidst anger, she embodied strength in hopelessness in a way that was familiar like your mom or auntie who has been hard done by the system and is only sustained by love and human connection. Her artistry was nothing out of the ordinary as she was among incredibly skilled actors on that stage, every performance garnered the required reaction and more. Compelling and sombre when needed, humorous and light hearted when it was called for. I couldn’t tell you where words started and thespian ended, so well-coordinated was the show. Showcasing van Tonder’s directing skills and her ability to construct cohesive stories and sets.
As I said earlier the set was quite barren, save for the ‘post office’ itself which doubled as the clerks’ office as well as where the music came from, the musicians themselves doubled as supporting cast members occupying the roles of the clerks. The music was fantastic and was great at pacing the actors working together to eradicate any seams, the music offered the perfect thematic accompaniment compelling one to feel beyond what was lit on the stage but to focus more on what it all means together, systematically. Working just as well as the system the play was critiquing; that of capitalism and how it contributes to government neglect. That the coin that can liberate is just as capable of subjugation.
Images provided by: Tshepiso, The Darkroom Artist, Seleke