Beyond the Big Bangs tracks a day in the life of three female characters both as they interact with each other and in their individual engagements of the day. The structure of dialogues and long monologues is quite unique and is testimony to the skills of a writer who can command the attention of his reader through diverse and interrelated anecdotes. Sandra is a domestic worker who has been asked by her employer to work on a Saturday because her culinary and domestic skills are required to make an impression on the guests who will be arriving during the weekend. Gita is a grandmother who lives with her family and chooses to go gambling whenever possible. Lindiwe is a teacher who has to report to a disciplinary hearing following assaulting a student who had frequently provoked her and had made a racist statement. Sandra and Lindiwe work in the area where Gita resides which provides the opportunity for their meeting but it is their individualism and integrity that results in them connecting emotionally. Each character is quite different from the other, possessing contradictions, insecurities and strengths. The value in reading a slice in the life of each of them is that it allows the reader to engage with the façade and then it explores the emotional drive and centredness of the women.
Plays by Ashwin Singh
Duped is a satire which is set on an airship designed to carry out covert operations for the South African government to safeguard the security of the country and international delegates visiting our shores. The cleverness of the work is the multi-faceted themes of ‘Big Brother is watching’ as South Africa enters the realms of international politics; the threats of internal security and challenges of maintaining a productive workforce; gender politics; and the jostling for power along race and class divides. The standout genius in the play is when the ship’s American designer, Mr. Johnson, takes out his latest invention, a reconciliatory chip, and extols: ‘It’s time to forgive me.’ Images of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission come flooding to mind and the path of the healing of our nation following the atrocities of Apartheid are juxtaposed against the positioning of our democracy in present day South Africa. Have we been naïve in claiming a Rainbow Nation? Have the politics of the country aligned with international party politics to provide a monetary value to freedom? It is particularly noteworthy how theft and greed needle through the story, from the ranks of the officials to the fabric of society until it knits a blanket of deception and covers their foibles.
Reoca Light is a tribute to the art of traditional storytelling. It traces the history of a family who had first arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers having relocated from India. The great, great grandfather had dreamed of having a convenience store, a dream which is finally realized by the fourth generation of the original settlers. It is a moving story of unsung heroes and community values and has at its core a sensual nature and spiritual depth. Sunil, a teacher, has been approached by the local newspaper to comment on his father closing the convenience store following a spate of burglaries and assaults, the last of which has resulted in his being hospitalized. What transpires is that the reporter discovers that Sunil had penned several unpublished stories about the people closely associated with the store and particularly the hut, which is behind the store. Sunil agrees to reveal these stories and through the process celebrates the people who have most influenced his life. It is a refreshing tribute to the survival of oppressed and marginalised people and interrogates the development of a small-town community by acknowledging the heroes and exposing the insular nature of some community members who demonstrated racism and secularism. The writing has a lyricism to it and serves as a reminder of the beauty of sharing stories across generations.
Spice ’n Stuff takes the depiction of women as mothers, wives, employees, employers and friends further by engaging the central character, Rita, in all of these roles. Rita is a shop owner who faces economic and personal challenges in having a spice shop in a street formerly known as Grey Street, which is located in Durban’s central business district. This historical street was where Indian traders were allowed to operate their businesses during the days of Apartheid. Over the years it evolved and included other communities. Rita’s life epitomises that of living in uncertainty. It is usually during such conditions that the external threats to survival and the internal turmoil of personal indiscretions form the catalyst to redefining one’s identity. It is a moving tribute to the multi-layered dimensions of womanhood and suggests that the writer has a keen understanding of gendered identities.
Set during the time that much of the international community perceived as the “honeymoon period” for South Africa, a period between the mid 1990s and the early years of the new millennium, during which time the iconic Nelson Mandela served as South Africa’s first democratically elected president and then Thabo Mbeki served his first term as president. Most of the action of the play occurs on one afternoon and the last scene happens on a particular morning two weeks later. However, the author is suggesting that the play’s events could have occurred at any time during this “honeymoon period”. To House explores the complexities and changing paradigms of living in a multicultural sectional titles scheme amidst an emerging South African democracy whereby stability of home, job security, family values, intergenerational relations and interpersonal conflict are brought to the fore. Much of the world seemed convinced that South Africa was engaging in a “honeymoon phase” in the early days of liberation and that colour, creed and class were no longer divisive factors. To House exposes the underbelly of society’s discomfort with dealing with crosscultural relations as it implodes into our living space.
Ashwin Singh is an attorney, lecturer, playwright, director and actor. His plays have received national and international exposure with To House, Spice ‘n Stuff, Shooting and Marital Blitz (co-written with Kajal Maharaj and Nesan Pather) being the best known. Singh is also a three-time national award winner via the PANSA/NLDTF Playreading Festival (South Africa’s foremost playwriting contest) with his plays To House (2003); Duped (2005 [earlier version]) and Reoca Light. Singh is also a published poet and academic author. He has received critical acclaim for his performances on stage, radio and film. He has also presented several workshops on contracts and business enterprises for PANSA, the Playhouse Company and Catalina UnLtd. He is currently the artistic director of AshTal (Pty) Ltd, a company he runs with his sister and mentor, Shantal Singh.