Filicide – The deliberate act of a parent killing his or her child.
SMA – Spinal Muscular Atrophy
In April 2014, the media was in a frenzy over the case of a South-African born mother, residing in England who killed her three severely disabled children. We watched as the story unfolded, riveted, horrified, saddened and bewildered. We discussed, we pondered, we wondered … how does a parent, a mother no less, cut short the life of her own child? It’s unthinkable, surely? What frame of mind must she be in? What horrors must she have endured? What depths must she have plundered? What precipice must she eventually have reached?
Not once do I remember anyone considering the ridiculous notion that maybe, just maybe, given the choice, those children might have chosen to live. Despite their obvious challenges, the numerous obstacles they’d undoubtedly face throughout their lives, what if they actually possessed the strength of character to surprise us all and overcome all of these? Well it’s a moot point isn’t it, because that choice was stolen from them; their lives snuffed out by the very person who was meant to protect them above all else: their mother.
And this is where theatre becomes the perfect conduit for abstract narrative. Based on the events described above, Eva Mazza has created Acceptance, a piece that demands we listen to the voices of the child victims of filicide.
Legendary South African actor Jerry Mofokeng plays the judge, trying to get a decent night’s sleep after the ‘manslaughter’ case he’s just closed on a mother who’s killed her three ‘severely disabled children’ which is how they were referred to throughout the proceedings, and never identified by name, hence never individualised. He’s woken by a loud knock at the door and so begins his surreal journey into an alternative trial, where he’s forced to hear the opinions of three personalities who it seems he did not acknowledge in the trial he’s just concluded.
The use of a stalwart actor like Mofokeng together with three young talents works well in this raw and riveting drama. Lea Viver, Francois Viljoen and Lisa Derryn Overy each display the complex individuality of who their characters could have developed into, had they been given the opportunity to do so, without overplaying their roles. In doing so, they all equally excel at the right to life argument, despite the disabilities that may exist. Presenting the judge with a book of facts to accompany their emotional case, they cite genuine sources from the actual original case, and instances of SMA, where children diagnosed with the condition have lived into their 50’s. This is combined with the use of visual projection, which I felt could have been put to far better use and effect.
Although the objective here is to portray the child victims’ perspective, Lisa Derryn Overy does briefly alternate in the role as the mother. While she re-enacts the reading of a (genuine) letter written to her husband during the actual killing of her children, imagined from opposing viewpoints, I thought it over-dramatic and completely over the top. But immediately realised that I had taken such a huge step back from this woman (as was the intention, when taking the children’s standpoint) that I was looking at her with a far too detached attitude! Of course she was being over-dramatic – she was hysterical, in the midst of such unimaginable horror! So well done to you Lisa, for shocking the audience back into the moment, and the realisation of the deplorable event that took place.
Make no mistake, this production will shock and disturb audiences on various levels. Ultimately though, the intention is to provoke discussion, and more profound reflection of what is generally considered a taboo topic: filicide, and indubitably this is exactly what it does.
Please do take a few minutes to look at the chilling photo gallery downstairs, either before or after the show. It really does add weight to the message that’s being conveyed here.