A black boy replies to unheard questions from an unseen but threatening interrogator. His humble responses to “Boss”, his pleas of innocence, his attempts to co-operate, his desperate cry for his mother, are to no avail. The outcome in apartheid era South Africa is horrifically inevitable.
Years later, Jennifer (Pauline Moran), a wealthy Afrikaaner, conducts a one-way conversation with her dying husband. She reminisces about their first meeting, how handsome he looked in his police uniform, and his proposal of marriage on her sixteenth birthday. Then she rails against the authorities for disturbing his rest by digging up her beloved rose garden, in a search for the remains of native African ancestors. The bones found are not ancient ones however, but recent and disturbing.
In Kay Adshead’s play, Jennifer’s memories and attitudes are challenged by Beauty (Sarah Niles), presently a maid, but a black woman who bears herself with the confidence of the new South Africa. Beauty makes Jennifer face up to her past - her passiveness is no excuse for her complicity, for she lived, and continues to live, off the spoils of apartheid. She has also been in denial of her husband’s brutality for years.
This powerful story is undermined here by stilted direction and a crude set: the stage is dominated by a large mound of earth, like a fresh grave, and is surrounded by rose bushes bagged and ready to re-plant. It doubles as the death-bed of Jennifer’s husband, and labours the point that his soul has been dead and rotten for years.
The music is a triumph, however, with the mournful sound of a lone unaccompanied African male voice and Joe Legwabe’s drum beating out rhythms of sorrow, joy, fear and menace.
Pauline Moran delivers a solid performance in the difficult role of Jennifer, an insipid, weak woman; but the evening belongs to Sarah Niles, playing both the doomed boy and the charismatic Beauty.
Bones is a fascinating depiction of the new South Africa, and how an individual is forced to confront her own denial of the past. While flawed, this is still a compelling production.
- Annette Neary (reviewed at the Leicester Haymarket)