#JUSTMEN. Devised by the cast. Directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer with Loukman Adams, Thando Doni, Sherman Pharo and Johan Baird. Set and lighting: Patrick Curtis. Baxter.

Photographs: Oscar O’Ryan

#JustMen Baxter

KAREN RUTTER reviews

Brave. Bold. A beginning.

These were some of the thoughts percolating in my head after watching #JustMen, the courageous initiative created by director Heinrich Reisenhofer and his cast at the Baxter. It’s hard to put into a category – part documentary, part dramatisation, featuring four award-winning actors who share their own, deeply personal stories on a theatre stage. It’s catharsis as theatre, disclosure as activism, with a deeply felt call-to-action as a conclusion.

And it’s about time.

#JustMen was conceived in response to the ever-growing reality of gender violence in South Africa. Yes, there have been prior productions which have highlighted a range of connected issues, from rape to domestic abuse and more. But the majority of these are about women (and children) as victims and survivors. I can’t actually recall a work that actively placed men at the centre of accountability. That made a link between an individual act and a general scourge. And that tasked audiences – male audiences – with a specific responsibility to stand up, be counted, and try to make a difference.

All of which #JustMen encompasses.

The format is simple – four men on stage, who acknowledge their complicit role in the continued abuse of women in South Africa. Who, through honestly and painfully recounting aspects of their past (and present), recognise and draw the links between laughing at a sexist joke, whistling at a passing woman, thoughtlessly moving from bed to bed, raising a hand in annoyance, expecting sex as a service – and rape. It’s hard stuff, this, made all the more so knowing it is from the heart.

#JustMen Baxter

Strenuous personal unpacking

All four actors plus Reisenhofer, chose to take part in this process, undergoing a strenuous personal unpacking for weeks before the production was put together, built on the parts that had been taken out and laid bare. Loukman Adams, Thando Doni, Sherman Pharo and Johan Baird are all seriously talented stage people – household names, some of them – and to see their emotional acknowledgement of where they had gone wrong, been complicit, or repeated patterns they had sworn to reject, was raw. And strangely although not unexpectedly, poetic – taken their combined acting experience.

The result is a show that needs to be seen – but most importantly, needs to be seen by men. This is essential. For many women, it’s a road already experienced and understood. It is not our job, as victims, survivors and activists, to continually educate men on how badly they have fucked up. Just as I honestly believe it is not the role of black people to spend their time helping white people to understand privilege. Or to be expected to sympathise with white tears.

Big audience to reach

The team has already taken a step in terms of inviting (just) men to stay behind after each performance to talk. The challenge is going to be to get men to come in the first place.  Schools, colleges, corporates, businesses need to get with this programme. And perhaps, once it has finished its run at the Baxter, #JustMen needs to be travel more broadly. 49.5% of the South African population is male, so there’s a big audience to reach.

It’s a beginning. And not a bad one.

What: #JustMen

Where and when: The Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from 13 to 30 June 2018

Book: https://bit.ly/2GORa1x, or select Pick n Pay stores

WS