REVIEW: EPSTEIN

Nicholas Pauling as Brian Epstein and Sven Ruygrok as This Boy.
Nicholas Pauling as Brian Epstein and Sven Ruygrok as This Boy.

This review was first published in Cape Times on 12 October 2015.

EPSTEIN. Directed by Fred Abrahamse, starring Nicholas Pauling and Sven Ruygrok. At Theatre on the Bay, Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm (until October 17). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” American author Joan Didion once observed.

Narratives are important because they allow us to create projections of who we are that is easy for other people to understand.

In addition, by constructing “stories” out of our lives and the important events we go through, as individuals and as families/communities we are able to preserve the past for longer.

But what about those who, despite their best intentions, can never truly find a way of “explaining” themselves properly to the rest of the world – let alone to themselves?

With his page in the history books forever secured as the guy who discovered and steered four Liverpudlian rapscallions to global stardom, The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was, and remains, just such an individual.

If repeating a story to the point where even the storyteller starts believing himself can be compared to creases being ironed out of a shirt, Epstein was the guy whose unchecked wrinkles eventually damaged his trademark tailor-made outfits beyond repair.

Directed by Fred Abrahamse and stopping over in Cape Town for a very brief run, Andrew Sherlock’s Epstein is neither a biographical play about him as a person, nor is it another Beatles tribute piece without substance and with no real purpose other than to play their songs. For that try Wikipedia or YouTube.

Performed with welly by Nicholas Pauling and Sven Ruygrok, what we find here instead is a series of reflections around addiction, loneliness, isolation, internal conflict, mental illness, self-sabotage and ultimately, what the price tag is for being a visionary genius.

Taking place in London over the course of roughly a night, the production opens to a 32 year-old Epstein (Pauling) bringing home a young lad (Ruygrok) that he had met at a club earlier that evening. Both their mutual intentions, as well as their respective social standings in life, appear clear-cut.

Known only as This Boy, we learn that Ruygrok’s character hails from Liverpool. A kind of Everyman, he is the playwright’s representation of the extracurricular carnal activities Epstein enjoyed throughout his life, as well as the youth and promise he found on the dingy Cavern stage on that fateful November 1961 afternoon.

Under Abrahamse’s usual impeccable control, what follows is a dance, a sort of mutual unravelling, between his cast members. Starting off on an awkward, unbalanced foot between their respective characters, seeing their clothing and other restrictions come off over the course of the play’s two acts results in an intense evening of revelation.

Pauling, apart from remarkably bringing Epstein’s mannerisms and general way to life, stretches himself further with each gulp of alcohol or pop of a pill his character executes.   Spiralling downwards fast and becoming more conscious/self-aware by the second, the gifted actor succeeds in painting a compassionate image of his study.

Following regular appearances in the Spud film series, Ruygrok here presents another dimension to his abilities. Maintaining a difficult working class Scouse accent throughout, it makes for a thrilling experience to see the young actor matching Pauling’s performance blow by blow.

True to form, Abrahamse and longtime creative collaborator Marcel Meyer have once again made sure that all other aspects of the production – from the research to the design – serve to enhance the cast and narrative in an authentic, unembellished way.

Performed on what he described to me afterwards as a “claustrophobic internal funhouse where Brian can wrestle with his demons”, Meyer’s visually arresting set is made up of a myriad of considered elements.

From the chrome and black leather couch to the flokati rug to the Mondrian painting dominating an entire wall; every element of 1960s chic and Epstein’s persona is captured and blended together, before being reflected back to the viewer via a striking mirrored panel completing the set.

Seeped in shades of silver, chrome, black, white and grey, Meyer’s costumes display similar intentions – appearing stylishly and ethereal under Abrahamse’s lighting. As major themes dealt with in the piece revolve around life/death and light/dark, also notice how the director tweaks his design to shift from a lighter to a darker palette as the evening (and Epstein’s life) gradually comes to an untimely end.

Even though I promised this wasn’t a musical tribute show, a final element that makes Epstein highly recommended fare is the strategic, cognitive use of recorded music to supplement key events or to highlight certain emotions. No shortcuts were taken here either, with Abrahamse only opting to use rare demo recordings and out-takes instead of the polished versions of songs such as “My Bonnie”, “Help!” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” that we all know too well.

l Tickets are R100 – R170. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions, please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

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REVIEW: EPSTEIN

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH

Pieter-Dirk Uys
Pieter-Dirk Uys

This review was first published in Cape Times on 2 March 2015.

AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH. Written and performed Pieter-Dirk Uys. At Theatre on the Bay, Camps Bay, Monday to Friday at 8pm, and Saturday at 5.30pm and 8pm until March 14. STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“I am standing up here today because I used to sit down there,” Pieter-Dirk Uys tells us shortly after appearing on stage dressed in a plain black t-shirt and pair of pants.

Behind him an army of his most iconic characters from the past 50 years are stashed away inside an assortment of numbered boxes, bags and crates.

Cape minstrels, disreputable politicians and, of course, the one and only Divine Mrs. E; each one is poised and ready to pop out with a tale to tell.

Starting by relating to the audience why he originally chose to pursue a career in theatre, Uys’ story is an all too familiar one for those of us who were also exposed to the magic of live performance at an early age.

Not only is it the main reason I personally became an arts journalist, but returning to Artscape’s foyer’s steps as a child busy watching one of their holiday panto productions are one of my most cherished memories.

Effortlessly incorporating references to recent news events, parliamentary skylarking and even a bit of sexual innuendo into his dialogue, any young comedian committed to his craft should be sitting in the front row taking notes directly from Uys.

Loosely adopting the format of the old Springbok Radio programme Pick a Box, there is no further set script in An Audience with Pieter-Dirk Eish. Instead, individuals are chosen out of the audience to pick a number between one and 19.

Whichever character lurks inside the chosen container is the one Uys will then transform into right before your eyes. No two shows will therefore ever play out in exactly the same way, or even in the same order of character sketches performed.

“Who voted for the NP after 1994?” he asked us during opening night’s first sketch, or “Are there any gay people in the audience?” during another. Adopting a spirit of inclusivity, the purpose here is not to poke fun at individuals, but to create a relaxed atmosphere in which everyone is able to enjoy him or herself.

While tannie Evita will most certainly give me a snotklap for revealing much more, those of Uys’ characters who made appearances during opening night included Groot Krokodil PW Botha, Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, former foreign minister Pik Botha, kugel Noelle Fine and, of course, South Africa’s most famous white woman herself.

Among the other persons we missed out on, but who I’m told on good authority are also waiting to be unleashed, are convict Oscar Pistorius, retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, German chancellor Angela Merkel as well as First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe.

While several of his characters’ un-PC jokes won’t necessarily work if performed by another comedian, they do here (including Madiba’s sketch) because we can see without a doubt that they are executed with the best of intentions.

“There are two things I hate about South Africa. Apartheid and the blacks,” Noelle’s character contradictorily remarks at one point, while during another scene a racist Afrikaner-type can be heard dropping the K-bomb repeatedly.

But it is Uys’ infectious optimism that ultimately trumps all. In addition to his current residency at Theatre on the Bay, earlier this month also saw him, through tannie Evita, launch a Twitter campaign called #CommitYourSelfie.

Proudly holding up her own sign on social media (a notice urging president Zuma to “Pay back the money”), tannie Evita asked her followers to post pictures of themselves while posing with messages against government corruption.

“Does history repeat itself and turn tragedy into farce?” Uys queried in a recent interview ahead of this production’s opening. “Maybe, on some minor levels of stupidity. For instance, the famed Gupta wedding and Nkandla fire pool.

“But looking at the characters and stories I have lined up – some old, some new, some borrowed and some blue – I don’t really believe that history does repeat itself in South Africa. It simply rhymes: from apartheid to tripartite; from Amanda to Nkandla!”

On only for another three weeks before moving to Johannesburg’s Pieter Toerien Main Theatre, An Audience with Pieter-Dirk EISH is already the most sought-after invitation in town.

By sequenced hook or camp crook, do anything you must to secure your seat.

l Tickets are R95 – R165. To book, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000, or see www.computicket.com.

Steyn du Toit is a Cape Town-based freelance arts journalist. For any questions please e-mail steyndutoit (at) gmail (dot) com. 

REVIEW: AN AUDIENCE WITH PIETER-DIRK EISH