(Mark Fisher’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/7/2023. Only the merciless survive … Dark Noon. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod)

Pleasance @ EICC, Edinburgh
South African actors replay the brutal events of the US’s formation as a catalogue of poverty, struggle, violence and pain

We know the story. We have heard it told countless times. One of the US’s great skills is in self-mythologising. Time and again, it has told the world about the first European settlers, the battles with the Indigenous people and the romantic dash for the western frontier. Everyone knows about cowboys, the gold rush, religion and commerce. Wherever you are from, you can talk about the American dream.

So it should not be a surprise to see this extraordinary show co-directed by Denmark’s Tue Biering and South Africa’s Nhlanhla Mahlangu for Fix & Foxy. On the surface, it sets itself the task of charting the birth of a nation from the arrival of its first impoverished immigrants to its early industrialisation, from lawlessness to civilisation. In a sequence of lightly narrated scenes, it plays out the key stages in the country’s development in pictorial style.

What makes it fresh, arresting and not a little troubling is who is telling the story. The seven actors are South African, six black, one white, who recount the familiar tales with the wonder of outsiders. Putting on blond wigs and daubing their faces in white makeup, they see nothing noble or romantic about this invasion of a foreign land, but a catalogue of poverty, struggle and violence. Most of the 35 million Europeans who crossed the Atlantic were as hungry and impoverished as the migrants in today’s world. Scarcely a scene goes by that does not end with a bullet.

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