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

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Cilna Katzke in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 1 July 2015.

Steyn du Toit

After months of strenuous rehearsals Cape Town’s Underground Dance Theatre is finally packed-up and ready to embark on their annual trip to the Eastern Cape. Split between three vehicles – containing 10 dancers, their costumes and props – are two dance pieces the company is presenting at this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) in Grahamstown.

Titled LoveZero the programme is made up of Steven van Wyk and Thalia Laric’s Mode, which first premiered as the Baxter Dance Festival’s commissioned piece last year; and Cypher, a brand new piece featuring dancers Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers and Nicola van Straaten.

Cipher is a numbers game,” explains Cilna Katzke, who choreographed the piece along with Kristina Johnstone. “Numbers seem rational, logical and impersonal, yet we seem to be deeply attuned to how numbers ‘feel’. There are favourite numbers, lucky numbers, mystical numbers…the list goes on.

Cipher explores the human inclination to ascribe emotion to that which seems obscenely rational. The dance navigates the tension between order and disorder, harmony and anarchy, the logical and the absurd.”

Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

Referring to the inspiration behind the production, Katzke explains that, during her time as a student at UCT, she had to do a project generally referred to as the “In-the-style-of project”. As part of it she had to choose a choreographer whose work she found interesting, before presenting her own piece in a similar style.

“The piece I chose was Shutters Shut, originally choreographed by Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT) artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León. In it they used a repetitive Gertrude Stein poem (“If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso”) as the soundtrack, with each word having a specific movement or gesture to go with it.

“While I chose a different Stein poem (“Matisse”), I still had to work with the external formula/structure (choreography) that the piece required. A certain amount of artistic decisions where therefore taken away from me. It is an aesthetic that I liked so much that, several years after graduating, I wanted to revisit its mechanics when it came to Cipher.

What she enjoys most about this process, Katzke explains, is that she does not have to stop all the time and “worry whether or not a choreographic decision I am busy making is right or wrong.” Instead, she continues, all she has to do is “lose myself in the process of creating.”

Wanting to create a piece using a similar pre-defined structure, combined with listening to a podcast on numbers by chance at the same time, led to the idea of approaching Cypher’s creation as a kind of game of numbers.

Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)
Nicola van Straaten, Odille de Villiers and Julia de Rosenwerth in Cipher (Pic by Jeanine Bresler)

“Initially Kristina and I spoke a lot about our favourite numbers; why they meant, important dates and birthdays in our lives, family dynamics, how many people in each family, how many children, and so on.

“From that we assigned words to each number from one to nine and, bringing in a games element, we then used a Sudoku puzzle to fill in the words/numbers that we’ve selected. This ‘game’ led to the birth of the dance moves associated with each word.”

Arranged by Heno Janse van Rensburg, the production’s choreography plays out to songs such as Max Richter’s “A Sudden Manhattan Of The Mind” and “When The Northern Lights/Jasper And Louise”, The Andrews Sisters’ “Rum and Coca Cola” as well as Meredith Monk’s “Masks.”

“When you have an abstract movement and you add a piece of music to it, suddenly that movement becomes imbued with emotion. The music we chose capture the mood and intentions of the piece, and were an integral part in helping us create our movements.

“Because each song is also from a different style and/or era, it constantly shifts the emotion on stage. The audience therefore will find themselves responding accordingly with each new track.”

Simple, understated cues will be used when lighting the dancers on stage from above, combined with brights from the side to make them appear more sculptural.

“They’ll be wearing long dresses that come to about mid-calf. Being this covered adds a different sphere, a kind of old-world feel to the piece. They look like women from a Jane Austen novel. It’s an interesting contrast, having movements that are quite athletic and relentless seen executed through the shape and weight of the material.”

Since debuting at the Baxter last year, Katzke goes on to say, Mode has undergone several tweaks in preparation for the festival. Directly following NAF, both productions will also travel to the Free State Arts Festival in Bloemfontein (July 13 – 18).

Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O'Ryan)
Henk Opperman en Ciara Barron in Mode (Pic by Oscar O’Ryan)

“The biggest change to Mode was that they’ve incorporated more dancers. There are now six – Julia de Rosenwerth, Odille de Villiers, Kopano Maroga, Henk Opperman, Natasha Rhoda en Sherwin Rhode – alongside opera singer Robin Botha.

“The costumes have changed slightly as well. They’re still wearing kilt-like skirts, however, the cast’s not wearing those turtleneck jerseys anymore. Instead they now wear vests, but also in different colours.

“Because Mode is a dance about dancing, Steve and Thalia have this time around approached the ending in a bit of a tongue and cheek way. Bringing in more types of dances to end things off on a slightly different way than before, they’re also commenting on the way we as a society end our dances.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

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

NAF 2015: UNDERGROUND DANCE THEATRE’S LOVEZERO

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Carina Nel in Suster (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

This interview was first published in Cape Times on 25 June 2015.

While this year’s National Arts Festival (NAF) will be enjoyed by most from the (relative) comfort of the various school and/or other plastic chairs sourced from all over Grahamstown, for those working behind the scenes the story can be quite different.

“To be honest, I think I might just lose it completely sometime over the course of the week,” quips ImpACT Award for Theatre nominee Quintin Wils.

One of several productions he is taking to the festival this year, Cape Town audiences were first introduced to this young Gauteng-based director’s work through Smaarties, which enjoyed a run at Alexander Upstairs last year.

The first part in a theatrical trilogy, Wills will take Smaarties along with its second instalment, Suster, as well as a brand new “mobile thriller”, called aLEXA (a reference to its lead character), to Grahamstown. In addition, he’s also signed up for a collaboration with former Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Theatre, Sylvaine Strike, as part of Simply Sapiens.

“Because I’m also handling all the technical aspects at my shows as well, I will literally be present at almost all of my productions during the festival. So, yes, I’ll basically be running around like a headless chicken trying to fit everything in,” he laughs.

Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)
Quintin Wils (Pic by Jaco Jansen van Rensburg)

A typical NAF day for Wils includes getting up at 6am, attending various technical rehearsals, the setting up of stages and performance spaces, then the clearing of them out afterwards, compiling notes to his casts and crews as well as catching up on admin for other projects he’s got kicking off immediately after the festival.

Referring to the concept behind Suster, he explains that the plot follows the story of the sibling of the main character featured in Smaarties, Mr. Lotz. Both pieces were written by Jannes Erasmus.

“You might recall that Jannes was also the lead actor in Smaarties. Suster, in turn, stars the exceptionally talented Carina Nel. It is a powerful one-woman show which follows the journey of Sybil, a lady diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) after the death of her parents.

“But while both plays are so closely linked via plot and characters, they are at the same time far enough removed from one another in order to be watched as standalone pieces.”

Asked what exactly a “mobile thriller” is, Wils answers that it’s a production that plays of inside a moving vehicle.

aLEXA
aLEXA

aLEXA has three audience members sitting in a driving car, along with the actors, while the production is taking place right in front of, and around them.

“I have also given the piece an immersive theatre edge, which means that the audience will not only be observing and watching the actors, but they will also interact with them and have a say in which direction the production can take a turn.”

When approached to stage Simply Sapiens alongside Sylvaine Strike and Megan Wilson, he says he “completely freaked out.”

“The production features three standalone plays, performed by the same two actors – Greg Melvill-Smith and Craig Morris – over three acts.  Each play was written and directed by a director from a different generation. I was chosen to represent the younger generation.

“My piece is Crossing, and in it Greg’s character is asking whether we as humans are just surviving, or trying to survive through violence without even noticing it. Physical theatre is used at first by an unnamed creature to try and word this to the audience, but is then stuck by having to resort to words to communicate with his audience instead.”

When coming to experience his work for the first time at NAF, Wils advises that the most important thing to remember is to enjoy each piece for what it represents individually.

“Some audience members have told me that my work usually kicks them in their stomach and throws them into deep ends that they’ve never explored before – but all in a good way!

“When started directing, I decided for myself that I will always try my utmost to create and direct work that people will not only look at and remember, but that they feel like they have actually experienced something afterwards.”

l NAF takes place from July 2 – July 12. For full show schedule and booking details, see www.nationalartsfestival.co.za and www.facebook.com/nationalartsfestival, or follow @artsfestival on Twitter.

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

NAF 2015: Interview with Quintin Wils

REVIEW: INHERENT END

Tamarin McGinley
Tamarin McGinley

This review was first published in Cape Times on 31 March 2015.

INHERENT END. Directed by Kim Kerfoot and starring Tamarin McGinley, with dramaturgical assistance by Kati Francis. At the Alexander Upstairs theatre, Monday to Thursday at 7pm (Until April 2). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

Tamarin McGinley’s Inherent End tells three stories simultaneously, each one intriguing enough to supply a full play on its own.

In the first we meet 11-year-old Stacey Venter, who, 60 years ago, first made her appearance as the title character in Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel, Lolita.

Against the backdrop of lazy porch swings, dusty gas stations and unfiltered Americana, the book chronicled her sexual relationship with a literature professor in his (very) late 30s.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Stacey/Lolita now finds herself, in addition to her mentioned extracurricular activities, also trying to survive the Y2K countdown, dungarees as fashion and the rise of online dating.

Thanks to the internet, no longer do sexual predators have to go out in search of their prey either. Instead, all one has to do is simply log (anonymously) into an internet chatroom and take your pick of girls like Stacey.

Inherent End

“Things must be different in America,” the teen lets slip between gushing over Demi Moore in Striptease and Rob Estes in Silk Stalkings. “The rules here are ‘the kid stays with the mom’. Even if she doesn’t want her. That’s what my dad told me when he left.”

Presented by the Instant Arts Col­lec­tive and directed by Kim Kerfoot, the second story told in this often dark-humoured play revolves around an unnamed woman who develops an unhealthy attraction/obsession towards someone she befriends online.

A product of parental and societal neglect, we can see early on that she’s too far down the road to even think rationally about what she’s doing. Thanks to her wit and personality, however, we begin to see that, above all, it is the need to be loved that drives her actions.

Performed throughout by McGinley, in the production’s final story a scientist prepares to give a TED Talk. Arguing that it is not only physical traits such as hair colour or bone density that can be passed on from parent to child via DNA, her talk motivates that the same can also be said of emotional experiences or mental trauma.

“Put simply, [epigenetics] is the study of heritable changes in gene expression,” she tell us while practising her speech in front of the mirror. “Changes that sit on, epi, the genes. Hence epigenetic.”

Told through monologues, digital projections and a stream of consciousness, how Inherent End’s three characters relate to each other, or whether they are, in fact, three different people at all, make for an interesting 65-minutes of theatre.

In addition, through McGinley’s arresting performance, the piece also asks its audience to consider universal matters relating to relationships, sexuality, human behaviour, the nature of morality, biology and psychology.

While it’s not necessary to have read Nabokov’s Lolita in order to understand this piece, I did find that being familiar with the novel helped me draw similarities between the narratives easier as well as help me follow the action on stage faster.

Both as a playwright and as an actor McGinley displays a range of skills and interesting ideas. Successfully adapting a well-known story into one of modern relevance is no mean feat. Yet she succeeds because she understands that the best kind of theatre is not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes one just has to spin it at a contemporary speed.

First staged in London last year at Camden People’s Theatre, while there certainly is no lack of bravery or content in the play, it is also admittedly not “easy” viewing – both in terms of script as well as in presentation. Finding tweaks to making both aspects more accessible to a wider audience is perhaps something that could be considered for future runs.

That said, for those who like life to a little more abstract and a little less paint-by-numbers, Inherent End might prove to be an interesting and unique trip to the theatre.

It is also a great opportunity to see a formidable duo (Kerfoot and McGinley both graduated from UCT in 2007) embark on what will hopefully become a long and prosperous creative partnership.

“They fuck you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to, but they do,” Philip Larkin writes in his poem, This be the Verse. “They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.”

Part confessional, part discourse and part innocence lost, you only have until Thursday to go see what Inherent End’s programme means when saying its characters will “straddle the gaps between victim and preda­tor, circumstance and action, innocence and guilt.”

l Tickets are R80 – R90. To book, call 021 300 1652 or see www.alexanderbar.co.za.

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

REVIEW: INHERENT END

REVIEW: DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD

Daniel Richards, front, and Gantane Kusch, back.
Daniel Richards, front, and Gantane Kusch, back.

This review was first published in Cape Times on 25 March 2015.

DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD. Directed by Sandra Temmingh, and starring Daniel Richards and Gantane Kusch. At the Artscape Arena theatre, Tuesday to Friday at 8.15pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8.15pm and Sunday at 3pm (Until March 29). STEYN DU TOIT reviews.

“If drug dealers make so much money, why are they still living with their mothers?” economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner asks in 2005’s Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

The process of reaching their conclusion is one of many reasons why this fascinating book proved so popular, but for the purposes of this review I’ll cut to the chase. Drug dealers and gang members still live with their mothers because, well, they actually end up making less money than the average McDonald’s employee.

Levitt and Dubner would have a field day here in the Western Cape. While our population might only be around one-tenth of the country’s population, the province nonetheless still manages to account for 60% of South Africa’s drug and gang-related crime.

Housing an estimated half-a-million Numbers gang members alone – seven times the staff compliment of the entire South African National Defence Force (SANDF) – the Cape Flats in particular would no doubt provide interesting research territory for the two authors.

Similar to their American counterparts, it is also most often the young men from places such as Lavender Hill that are sucked into this “profession”. Statistics show that a whopping 72% of males born on the Cape Flats will eventually go to jail for it, and a lot of them will return there so many times over the course of their lives that “going home” has become a euphemism for serving time.

With the odds so obviously stacked against you, why then would someone choose to become a Numbers gangster and tik dealer in the first place I hear you ask while reading this review and sipping espresso on your sunny suburban porch. The answer, of course, is that they don’t choose the lives they end up having to live out. They are, simply put, born into it.

Directed by Temmingh and starring Kusch as a mid-level general with an estimated 3000 gang members serving underneath him, through the various characters he meets (all played by Richards) in Die Glas Ennie Draad (The glass and the wire) the viewer is taken inside a bright young mind too promising to have been dealt such a heavy hand in life.

Named “Marlin” for the purposes of the play, by having Kusch interact with Richards as both a psychologist as well as one of Marlin’s fellow gangsters, we are also given profound insight into the complexity of the kind of individual the media (and those of us comfortably living in the upper to middle classes) all too easily want to refer to as the skidmark of Cape Town’s society.

Based on interactions Kusch and Richards had with an anonymous real-life former gangster, the play’s script fuses poetry and movement to explore a life destroyed before it had a chance to even begin. “Believing in oneself” and “becoming anything you want as long as you apply yourself” are not slogans Marlin heard growing up. Here it was only bowana in en bowana uit. Blood in and blood out.

Gantane Kusch, front, and Daniel Richards, back.
Gantane Kusch, front, and Daniel Richards, back.

Temmingh, who, after more than 25 years of lecturing have chosen this production as her swan song from UCT’s Drama Department, has her formidable actors demonstrate the inseparable nature of blood once it mixes. Incorporating rhythmic gang hand signs, the assembling of guns and other related mannerisms into their performance, we start to see how their unforgiving environment cyclically both spawn as well as consume them.

Kusch as the fearless yet conflicted gang leader gives a commanding performance, as does the Fleur du Cap-nominated Richards (Fergus of Galloway) in his various demanding roles. True to the play’s title, as a duo these two also do a solid job in demonstrating the interrelationship between higher-ranked gang “officials” (the glass) and their subordinates (the wire).

Performed in a mixture of English, Afrikaans, Cape Flats dialect and Numbers lingo, while there are parts that might be difficult to follow for non-native Afrikaans speakers, Die Glass Ennie Draad always makes sure to bring everyone back up to speed with frequent cuts to Richards’ anglophone psychologist.

While admittedly the past few years have seen more than a fair share of Cape Flats-related gangster films, plays and even photographic and art exhibitions, where this one differs is in its focus and intention.

This isn’t a play about scary characters, gratuitous violence or slow motion shootouts to the sound of Die Antwoord. Rather, it’s a gritty, psychological and often-abstract look at the fear and trauma related with simply being born on the wrong side of Table Mountain.

l Tickets are R100. 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: DIE GLAS ENNIE DRAAD

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

INTERVIEW: JENNIE REZNEK on I TURNED AROUND AND SHE WAS GONE

Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away and She Was Gone. (Pic: Mark Wessels)
Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away and She Was Gone (Pic: Mark Wessels)

This feature was first published in Sunday Independent on 1 March 2015.

With I Turned Around and She Was Gone Jennie Reznek has reworked the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone in order to tell the story of three generations of women in her own family. STEYN DU TOIT talks to the theatre icon about motherhood, growing older and taking up scriptwriting.

The other day, while driving, I was suddenly taken aback when, looking into my rear view mirror, I saw the face of my father returning my gaze.

How was it possible, I wondered, that my eyes could overnight have turned into the same pair I had seen reflected so many times while sitting in the backseat as a child?

Noticing how they even came complete with my dad’s eyebrows and crow’s feet around them, something started shifting inside me. In that moment I felt as if I was both my father and myself.

I mention this incident to Cape Town’s Magnet Theatre’s co-founder, Jennie Reznek, at the start of our interview. She immediately starts smiling in recognition. It is, after all, one of the core themes explored her latest play, I Turned Away and She Was Gone.

“It’s a sign of the passage of time. You’ve reached a landmark in your journey of growing older,” she answers.

“I once had a baby who I thought was going to stay a baby forever. Then, one day, I turned around only for a moment. When I turned back she was gone. An adolescent woman instead stood in her place.

“Later, when looking away from the mirror briefly, my own image was somehow replaced with that of an old crone in the split second it took for me to turn my head back.”

She goes on to explain that our bodies contain both the younger past, and older future versions of ourselves. Often the spare parts making up these versions, whether physical or personality traits, also make up our children and our parents, hence the tendency to recognise ourselves in one another.

Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away And She Was Gone (Pic by Mark Wessels).
Jennie Reznek in I Turned Away And She Was Gone (Pic by Mark Wessels).

Describing the process of fusing together the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone with that of her own life as “a long one”, she recounts that the script’s development was driven by the need to frame her story with references that would move it towards a more universal narrative.

“Mark Fleishman, who co-founded Magnet with me as well as being the director of this play, suggested we find a way of ‘containing’ these stories of growing up and growing older.

“At the time I was reading up on the abduction and rape of Persephone, who was also known as Kore before her disappearance. A lot of the feminist writing I found on it made a strong case for the myth not actually talking about a real abduction or rape.

“Instead, these authors argued, one should rather see it as Kore going into her own unconscious, her own underworld, in order to individuate. She needs to become her own woman, her own person. To do that she needs to separate herself from her mother. This is when she becomes Persephone.”

Simultaneously, Demeter has to let go of her hands-on approach to raising her daughter, and start realising that Kore has now reached a stage where she’ll have to start making it through this world as an adult woman.

“The third character I’ve brought into my play is that of the old woman, Hecate. In the myth she’s the one that witnesses Kora’s abduction, and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate her as a grandmother figure into the play.

I Turned Away and She Was Gone is the first-ever Magnet Theatre production in 27 years that comes with a script beforehand. Everything else to date has been workshopped by directors and casts during rehearsals.

It is a recipe that has proved very successful so far, with Voices Made NightRain in a Dead Man’s Footprints and Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking being a few examples of the exceptional work that the company has put out in the past.

“This production started out similarly, until Mark came in and said, ‘Nothing’s happening here. It seems like the physical text is not interesting. The verbal text is not interesting. We’re trying to do things at the same time.

“He then suggested I go try and write something, which was an idea that I found very funny at first because the body has always been our domain. We are used to creating things on the floor.”

Turning to poetry, feminist writing, academic journals and even Jeannie DuBose’s The Mother Daughter Dance, the more Reznek read, the easier it became to match the themes she was busy exploring with that of the various chapters found in Demeter and Persephone.

“In the end, the writing process actually turned out to be a lot of fun. When I showed Mark the first draft he liked it, and it was at this point in rehearsals that we brought in the help of choreographer Ina Wichterich. She has been a crucial part of our company’s success in the past.

“With Ina’s help we proceeded to trim the text further and to bring in more of Magnet’s traditional visual elements and images. Eventually, I think we found a good balance between the physical and the verbal.”

When talking to designer Craig Leo, another longtime member of Magnet, Reznek and Fleishman knew that they wanted water to feature prominently as part of the set.

“In the myth, Kora has to cross the river Styx in order to reach the underworld. That was therefore our first point of visual departure. Secondly, we wanted to keep focusing on the notion of flowing. How do we move from one stage in our lives to the next as we grow older?”

Situated across the stage and climbed in and out of as part of Reznek’s performance are tin tubs of various sizes. They serve to represent the body as a vessel, or container, for what is commonly referred to as our “souls”.

“Even though Neo Muyanga weren’t often in rehearsals due to time constraints, I was nonetheless blown away by how accurately he managed to ‘feel’ the production, and then to articulately create such a beautiful soundtrack for us.”

When coming to see the play, Reznek hopes that each viewer will see it for what it is: An invitation to come on a journey with her.

“Although this journey is at times a painful one, it also has lots of moments of joy and playfulness. I’d love people to just sit back, and to come and experience this passage with me.”

For more information or to book tickets for I Turned Around and She Was Gone (on until March 14), see www.magnettheatre.co.za andwww.facebook.com/Magnet.Theatre, or follow @MagnetTheatre on Twitter.

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

INTERVIEW: JENNIE REZNEK on I TURNED AROUND AND SHE WAS GONE