Review: Foreplay

Written by: Tiisetso Tlelima

Pictures Credit: Ruphin Coudyzer

Mandla Gaduka
Mandla Gaduka
Sex, prostitution and infidelity are what theatre-goers can expect from Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom’s latest production Foreplay. Adapted from Austrian writer Arthur Schnizler’s commended Reigen, the play - set in Pretoria’s townships – is a series of 10 inter-connected scenes on society’s moral hypocrisy when it comes to sex. Grootboom is renowned for his simple yet provocative style – he doesn’t believe in sugar-coating prickly situations but would rather present reality as it is. Often his work evokes two distinct emotions from the audience: either the truth is too much to swallow and you reject it or you are appalled by what he’s saying but you still appreciate the truthfulness and the impeccable manner in-which he portrays our society. Some critics call him a cynic, but I call him a realist: he represents things as they really are.


In London Foreplay was viewed as blasphemous, here in South Africa some feel it was unnecessarily violent and obscene particularly during the rape scene. One has to wonder at this point how Grootboom was supposed to portray a rape scene? Would it have been better if he had used an abstract approach which would take us hours to dissect? I think not. Perhaps this was the only way the playwright could be certain that the play will leave a lingering picture in our minds – a disturbing image that would force us to deal with the extent of rape and sexual assault in South Africa.

“People like to see their lives being presented to them, but when you do it like it is they get shocked,” says Sello Zikalala who plays the character Pastor Ray. “People see violence all the time on the street and on TV, but when it’s done on stage they are shocked. We see people who use power and [violence] to get what they want all the time…people should just get out of their comfort zones.” Foreplay isn’t merely about sexual escapades and violence, but also addresses poignant issues such as manipulation of power, moral degeneration, hypocrisy, and political corruption. The underlying theme that runs throughout the production is that we all have sex therefore it shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject. Whether you are a high-profile person, a low-life, an intellectual, a student, a prostitute or a priest we can all be reduced to that imbecile moment just before you have sexual intercourse. Some sweet-talk you into doing it; others take it forcefully to assert their power while some use it as a weapon.

Koketso Mojela and Sello Zikalala
Koketso Mojela and Sello Zikalala

Grootboom mocks people we’d like to think are of great statures who scorn prostitutes and those who are open about their sexuality in public, but carry out the worst forms of social ills when no-one is looking. He makes reference to self-righteous politicians who preach equality and respect for human rights, but are the first ones to force themselves onto a prostitute; a seemingly respectable married woman who sleeps with a teenage boy to satisfy her sexual desires and a priest who uses his powerful position to manipulate a confused teenage girl into sleeping with him. “People look up to high-profile people in society forgetting that they’re also human,” explains analytical chemist turned actor, Zikalala. “They get moody, they’re not perfect and they’re also capable of sinning.” In the play his character, Pastor Ray, simply excuses his disgraceful behaviour by saying ‘…priests who [engage] in inappropriate physical involvement outside marriage… People call it moral failure and in turn demand that those preachers step down from moral leadership… but I call it proof of pastoral humaness’. Foreplay doesn’t condone his behaviour but simply gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who like to take the moral high-ground in society.

Excellentia Mokoena
Excellentia Mokoena
The theme of prostitution also features significantly throughout Foreplay. From the onset of the show we are bombarded with barely clothed prostitutes who instantly tell us we can get two for the price of one. They entertain us with hilarious tales of their sexual escapades. Grootboom represents them as powerful, confident and independent women you wouldn’t dare cross. “I think they (prostitutes) have a lot of power. They act tough because they don’t wanna reveal things that people can use to take advantage of them,” says actress Excellentia Mokoena. She plays the clever and conniving prostitute Leocardia so well and with such ease you’d think she’s been in the acting game for years. A product of the State Theatre’s art school, this young actress has only really performed in developmental theatre groups such as Info which are intended to expose youngstas to the world of theatre. Landing a role on Paul Grootboom’s play was a dream come true. She tells me that getting into character was a like a rollercoaster ride and being seductive was probably one of the most difficult things she’s had to do. She thought people would think that’s how she is in real life and was petrified of what they would say when they saw her naked body onstage. “When we were rehearsing, I was told I wasn’t making the correct sounds…I was so uncomfortable,” she says shyly. “I had to go deep within myself. It was up to me to decide how I wanted the character to be.”

Getting into character wasn’t too much of a hassle for Sello Zikalala who has been acting since he was six years old in his hometown, Potchestroom. He had been acting in community dramas for as long as he could remember and was just a high school boy when he ran away from home to Joburg hoping to be one of the many artists trained by the late Soweto playwright, ‘Bra Gibson Kente. But when he got there he was sent back home with strict instructions to finish his matric. In 1996 he attempted to study towards a degree in analytical chemistry, which he abandoned, but completed at a later stage. His passion for the arts never died and he made it a point to travel from Potch to Hillbrow every weekend to take part in Hillbrow community arts projects. By 2001 he had produced a show called Xenophobia which earned him an FNB Vita Award. In 2006 he landed a role in Paul Grootboom’s Township Stories and has worked with him on Cards, Inter-racial, Maru and now Foreplay.

“I love working with Paul because he knows his story and even though he’s the writer and director, you can still suggest changing things if you think something doesn’t work,” says Zikalala. He describes Grootboom directorial style as powerful and one that he’s constantly drawn to. “I don’t understand how his mind works. He’s very observant in social settings and always incorporates what he sees in everyday life in his work.”

Well, we can certainly agree with that. Foreplay is realistic, relevant, powerful and a highly entertaining production to watch.

The show runs at the Market Theatre until 4 October.