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University of Cape Town: ‘Hold Still’ showcasing at The Baxter

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The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Nadia Davids and Professor Jay Pather once again team up for the world premiere of David’s latest play, Hold Still, at The Baxter from 7 to 19 November.

The production also brings together a stellar cast and creative team, starring Andrew Buckland and Mwenya Kabwe, with Tailyn Ramsamy and newcomer Lyle October in supporting roles. The creative team, led by Professor Pather (director), comprises Patrick Curtis (set design), Neo Muyanga (sound design) and Angela Nimov (costume design).

Hold Still tells the story of a family shaped by different generational traumas who must confront their own histories to get through a single, life-changing night. The multi-themed play focuses on a long-term marriage and through it, examines the limits of middle-class empathy, the complexities of an inter-racial, intra-cultural family living in the shadow of catastrophic political histories, and what we’ll do to protect those we love.

“For the last several years, I’ve been struggling with what it means to be a ‘good person’, with what it means to be a responsible, active citizen and with how ordinary people are expected to respond to these catastrophic times,” said Davids. “Hold Still comes out of an ongoing argument I’ve been having with myself about my own limitations in this regard, about wanting safety in an unsafe world, about the impulse to withdraw when what’s needed is engagement.”

Themes and plot

Set against a contemporary cosmopolitan London, rife with xenophobia, the fear of the stranger is a steady theme throughout the play. Rosa and Ben Feigel (played by Kabwe and Buckland) are a progressive, dynamic, north London couple. She’s the daughter of South African exiles and he’s the son of a man who escaped on Kindertransport. Their teenage son Oliver (October) – full of a political conviction his parents have encouraged – decides to hide a vulnerable person, his best friend and an asylum-seeking teenager (Ramsamy), in their home. As the night unfolds, Rosa and Ben must grapple with what their response to Oliver’s actions reveals about their marriage, their histories, and how it tests their image of themselves.

The play’s genesis lies in Davids’ years in London when the refugee crisis hit, and Brexit was gaining traction. She was dismayed by the government’s response and deeply moved by stories of ordinary people extending themselves to support refugees. She started to think about all the histories of immigration that London contained and how her own family history was shaped by movement – both enforced and chosen.

“How would they respond if they discovered a refugee in their home? Would it trigger courage or fear in them?”

She explained, “A story began to form for me about a couple who prided themselves on their left-wing principles, whose own families had endured unspeakable histories of political and racist trauma – South African apartheid and the Jewish holocaust – who were themselves the children of refugees, of exiles, of people who had to hide in order to escape. And I began to wonder: How would they respond if they discovered a refugee in their home? Would it trigger courage or fear in them?”