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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: Cadre is a powerful reminder of the real price of freedom

There is a reason plays like Cadre continue to be written, as they are powerful reminder of the real price of freedom.

Based on true events, Cadre is told through the eyes of a young South African activist, Gregory, from the 1960s until the fall of apartheid in 1994.  Beginning with the prophetic words “I thought I would be free”, what follows is a devastating look at life before and after apartheid, and the realization that for many, post-revolution South Africa did not live up to expectations.

As well as writing and directing, Omphile Molusi also stars as Gregory, and is joined onstage by Fezile Mpela and Lillian Tshabalala who play multiple characters including Gregory’s parents, his young love, and even a Boer police officer.

While Molusi brings an honesty and intensity to his performance that speaks volumes to his familiarity with the subject matter, it is his co-stars that get the biggest workout of the evening.  The character changes for Mpela and Tshabalala are sometimes at such speed that lesser actors would collapse under that pressure, but the two bring a clarity to each of the roles that is at times astounding.  When Mpela steps on the stage as the white police officer, it is with clarity of the accent and demeanor that he is instantly recognized.  As the two young lovers, there is a real connection of innocence between Molusi and Mpela that makes for one particularly devastating scene.

Scott Davis brings a simple set of beige fabric draped from clotheslines that also act as the canvas for some beautifully realized shadows courtesy of lighting designer Jesse Klug. Many of those moments are beautifully highlighted by African folks performed by the cast.  Davis’s costumes are equally as simple, which is a blessing for some of the quick changes necessary for Mpela and Tshabalala, but surprisingly Gregory must be content to portray forty years in the same clothes.

In the advance press the young playwright talks about a very real fear that the gains made and all of the lives lost during apartheid and after, may all be in vain: “…we should realise is that if we are too careless – through corruption, lack of service delivery, arrogance or negligence – we might lose this dreamland.  It is important to remind ourselves of why we fought for freedom so that we avoid history repeating itself.”

Cadre is one of those potent reminders.

Cadre written by Omphile Molusi. Directed by Omphile Molusi in collaboration with Rick Boynton. A Cultch presentation of a Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Richard Jordan Productions production in association with the Market Theatre of Johannesburg. On stage at The Cultch (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until March 8. Visit for tickets and information.

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