Review: Woolworths – the audio play by Juliet Jenkin, at the vNAF (National Arts Festival) Curated Programme

✳ NOTE: The vNAF Curated Programme has been extended until July 16 2020. The vFringe has been extended until July 31. Production credits and ticket info for Woolworths, at end of review.

I saw Woolworths – the play by Juliet Jenkin in February [2020- yes this year – Before – and then everything changed] at The Courtyard Playhouse in Cape Town. The Courtyard was formerly The Alexander Bar & Theatre [also referred to as Alexander Upstairs]. It was refurbished – given a total revamp- with red velvet seats. Woolworths was part of The Courtyard launch season and was on until February 29, 2020. I hope that this theatre will survive the lockdown.

Woolworths was first staged in 2017 at The UCT Arena. That was followed by the National Arts Festival Fringe, 2018, Theatre Arts Admin Collective, Cape Town, 2018 and Woordfees, Stellenbosch, 2019. I missed out on all its previous incarnations and was thrilled to experience it at The Courtyard. The play had received a rapturous response. I was hooked from the first line: “Can I please just live – in Woolworths.” Yeah, we all want to live there. It is a play which loops around privilege – white privilege –using Woolworths the retail store as metaphor, frame and container. Read my review from The Courtyard performance. Click here ttps://

With the pandemic and national lockdown in South Africa, the text resonates chillingly. In the lockdown, retail stores like Woolworths have remained open. I remember walking into Woolworths – during the hard lockdown – in the first three weeks. I was lured away from home there to buy toilet paper which is on special – an excellent special. It is still on special [July 2020]. As in the play, I wanted to live in Woolworths. I wanted lie down in the sanitised aisles and stay there. It was very seductive, soothing; disinfected retail nirvana – for those with the money to buy groceries and toilet paper. There was the dulcet soothing tones of the in-store announcer: “Welcome shoppers during our National Lockdown” and the urging for us to take care and “buy only what is needed.” Yeah, sure.  After buying my toilet paper and basics, I lingered, eavesdropping on other shoppers. I was fascinated at the muffled ranting through masks of shoppers not being able to buy their brand of yoghurt. Some people had small baskets. Others were cramming their trolleys with what I would call luxury items. Pandemic? What pandemic. Economising? Nope. There was cacophony of bleating. It was like theatre- but not in a good way. The Jenkin play, hovered as I watched scenes unfold. I was fascinated and appalled. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to nest in Woolworths.

In writing Woolworths, Jenkin structured the play around a chorus, made up of seven performers. As in the format of a choral verse presentation, they chant out the lines as a communal wave of aspiration and desire as they evoke images, ideas, fears. It is confessional. It is group therapy. It is being at a sports game and being united by singing the same song. It is being at a braai and finishing sentences of people that you have just met and bonding over saving the rhinos and other causes. Woolworths is a compendium, a litany of complaints, whinging and affirmation.

In February, at The Courtyard Playhouse, I was transfixed watching and listening. In live performance, there was a frenzied pitch between physical movement and voice.  It is a text rich play and in the audio play, it works exceptionally well. The patterning and cadence of the voice conjures up the rhythms of the physical movement on stage. In a sense, the wailing, simpering whinging refrain of privilege is heightened in the audio play. In the audio play, we have no distractions of meeting the gazes of the performers; watching them. Pete O’ Donoghue’s sound editing is superb. Listen with earphones to get a sonic experience.

Woolworths – the audio play at the vNAF – is a triumph – transfiguring live performance into an intense, aural experience. It is a play which speaks volumes about privilege and reverberates vividly during the pandemic and lockdown. The lockdown mantra is that we are all equal and in this together. No, we are not. If only we could all lie down together in safe aisles – screened and sanitised from everything outside.

Woolworths – audio play at the vNAF

Platform: Virtual National Arts Festival 2020

Programme: The Curated Programme. This work has been selected by the NAF and may be viewed via a festival day pass or a full festival pass – tickets below

Genre and format: Audio drama

Duration: 50 minutes

Language: English

Age Recommendation: 14+

Production details

Writer and director: Juliet Jenkin

Performers:  Alice De Beer, Wynand Ferreira, Alicia McCormick, Kaylee McIlroy, Francesco Nassimbeni, Tazmé Pillay and Johann Vermaak

Sound production: Pete O’ Donoghue

Tickets: R600 full festival pass – provides access to the jazz AND the entire curated programme. An R80 day festival pass provides access to everything on The Curated Programme – which includes the Jazz Festival. The Fringe is not included.

Festival info: Click here or see

Image credit. Pic supplied. Photo by Francesco Nassimbeni