When the show was over and the lights came up, one could audibly hear the audience
exhale. No one said anything for a while. We sat in silence, absorbing what we had just
witnessed. That is how captivating, dark and intense Roses are Red was.
The story follows Vinny, a young man who possesses idealistic notions of love. He gets into
a romantic relationship with Justine. We witness how the signs of a toxic relationship escalate as Justine begins to abuse Vinny. Through flashbacks, we witness Vinny’s
childhood; We learn that his father abused his mother. The play contemplates how
this affected Vinnie in his youth, and in his adult romantic life. Throughout, we
explore society's perception of a man being domestically abused by a woman. The play deals with themes of cycles of abuse, masculinity v femininity, and the idealisation of love,
passion, and violence.
The theatre is a visual medium and the Curro ensemble did not forget that. Their use
of visuals was aesthetically pleasing and functional. Red was repeated throughout
the play; In the clothes, the set, the props, and the lighting. In each scenario, it would
symbolise opposing themes, creating stunning visual parallels. For example, red appears at the prospect of love, but it reappears at the prospect of violence and abuse.
Roses were used similarly, being handed from character to character to juxtapose
the play’s symbols. It goes to show how deeply the writers thought of each element
of the play.
The performances are what left everyone astonished. It is frightening, how convincing
every performer was, especially the people portraying Vinny’s parents - Ekon and
Nomandla. There were moments when I thought audience members were going to
jump on stage to save Nomandla from Ekon’s abuse. The performers fed off each
other’s energy and interacted so intimately on stage that it often felt like we were
looking in on someone's life, without it being counsensual. This fed into the intense atmosphere the play brought. The amount of emotion and belief the performer placed in the material, made the audience empathise with the soliloquies and monologues that much more.
(I can’t help but wonder if the performers were given the right tools to move in and out
of these headspaces. Embodying dark content can be dangerous. High school
drama departments do not usually equip their students to exit such space and I hope
that this isn't the case here).
The beautiful visuals and the intense content of the play created this odd and blood-chilling
phenomenon. As an audience member, it was uncomfortable to watch but it was impossible to look away. I was constantly in a state of distress for the characters, even
within a ‘calm’ situation, because I knew that there was a constant threat of danger
to the characters I empathised with. We, the audience, were placed in the same
panicked state as the play's victims, and it forced us to think about the questions the
play was putting forward.
Roses are Red manages to depict abuse, and how three-dimensional the abuser
and the relationship can be, without unintentionally glamorising it. My question is; if
high school students can do this, why can grown adults with funding, not?
written by Nokukhanya Sibanda
copyedited by Ashley Allard
photographs courtesy of FEDA