CORRUPTION, a spin-doctor, a court case, sexual violence and a murder. Another day, another front page? In this case, they are some of the ingredients of Mike van Graan's play Green Man Flashing, which is on at the Artscape Arena in Cape Town. The play was written in 2003, which makes you realise how little things have changed in nine years and/or how regularly news themes are repeated.
Green Man Flashing, which is studied by drama students at university and is a prescribed work for schools that follow the Independent Examinations Board curriculum, is a fast-moving political thriller set six weeks before South Africa's second elections in 1999.
Gabby Anderson (Fleur du Cap and Vita award-winning actress Anthea Thompson) is the white personal assistant to a black government minister, who is widely acclaimed for his impressive struggle credentials and is expected to become the country's next deputy president. One night he allegedly rapes Gabby.
Her ex-husband, Aaron Matshoba (Wiseman Sithole), is the ruling party's chief spin-doctor. He is sent to persuade her not to go through with the charges against the minister, which are worrying for the party so close to elections. He tries to convince Gabby not to go through with the trial "for her own good". Could he be right?
Luthando Nyaka (Thami Mbongo) is the classic party hack. He's arrogant and dogged, and tells Gabby she should sacrifice her rights for the good of the country.
Kanna Award nominee Charlton George plays Inspector Adams and Susan Danford is the idealistic lawyer and longstanding friend of Gabby, Anna Richards. She insists Gabby should testify, arguing that remaining silent would be to condone the rape.
Van Graan, who is associate playwright at Artscape, is a masterful scriptwriter. The pace is brisk and the dialogue snappy. Many of the scenes are fleeting, moving back and forth in time with each revealing more of the story - and creating more questions for the audience. There are several sub-plots and, in just 85 minutes, the play provides an incredibly rich picture of South Africa before and after the first democratic elections.
Green Man Flashing is tightly directed by Hennie van Greunen and, despite the thrilling plot and riveting performances (Thompson is particularly impressive), the play is never melodramatic. Greg Karvellas's moody lighting and meagre set design heighten the tension.
The idea of the play, says Van Graan, was to take on the challenge of deep moral and political questions for which there are no ready answers in a society struggling with notions of morality. Green Man Flashing was first produced in 2004, before similar scenes played out in real life when Jacob Zuma, then deputy president of the African National Congress, was charged with rape in 2006.
Awards and recognition for the play include jury winner at the Pansa/UCT Drama School Festival of Reading of New Writing, 2004; nominee for best new script at the Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, 2006; and winner at Theatre in Translation (Argentina-South Africa exchange project) last year.
. Green Man Flashing is on at the Artscape Arena until June 23, then moves to the National Arts Festival from July 2 to 7 and to Bloemfontein from July 11 to 13.