BBC Radio 4, 12 February 2013
In 1964 the singer Dusty Springfield (Charlie Brooks) visited South Africa
on tour with the express intention of playing to non-segregated audiences during the time of apartheid. Needless to
say she fell foul of the authorities, especially after having performed onre or two concerts; as a result, she was confined
to her hotel and hustled on to a plan back to the United |Kingdom as speedily as possible.
Within that basic framework Marilyn Imrie's production had some trenchant things
to say about dictatorships and the ways in which they could be resisted. The South African police employed a variety
of strategies to suppress Dusty's resistance, including confining her to her room, trying to prise her band away from her
with the offcer of untold riches, preventing her making telephone calls home, and forcing her to sign alternative contracts
decreeing that she could only play to white audiences. Needless to say Dusty was very frightened, and by the end of
the play she seemed glad to return home.
What was perhaps more interesting was the effect of her concert tour. While
she could be seen on the one hand as a naive idealist, trying to challenge a well-established racist government, her presence
in the country inspired the black South Africans to develop their own methods of resistance - for example, removing their
hats as a gesture of self-assertion. They were no longer prepared to be treated as second-class citizens, bowing and
scraping to their white masters; they wanted to hold their heads up high as individuals.
Through intelligent use of doubling, Imrie's cast, including Jack Klaff, Vincent
Ebrahim and Jonny Freeman, showed how racial differences were purely arbitrary; the product of a society increasingly aware
of its fragility at that time, and hence becoming more and more extreme in its reinforcement of white authority.
An instructive piece of social history, Dusty Won't Play also showed how
individuals don't necessarily have to participate in direct political activism in order to inspire others.