By: Athol Fugard
Featuring: Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Carel Nel, Francois Jacobs, and Dania Gelderblom
Directed by: André Odendaal
Produced by: the Market Theatre
6 October, 19:00
A boarding house. A landlady being rejected by a man who is not only her lover but also a tenant. This same landlady turning 50. Her desperate attempt at a birthday party intended to spite her lost lover: a slab cake instead of a round cake with icing, a quarter of a bottle of sweet wine, an old fashioned dress, and two sad and lonely tenants as guests. These details set the scene for an interesting and intriguing unfolding of events.
Unfortunately this production did not live up to my expectations. From the first moment it was evident that the actors’ chemistry and energy was off. The text requires the type of realism that makes the spectator feel like a fly on the wall. The audience should feel that they accidentally stumbled onto the scene; that it is not performed for them, but that they are in fact eavesdropping. The ensemble never managed to lift the performance to this level.
I have been a fan of Anna-Mart van der Merwe ever since I can remember and have been fortunate enough to see her on stage quite a few times. She is a formidable actress and was exceptionally memorable in plays like Wyn, Die Twaalfuurwals, and Macbeth.slapeloos. I was therefore quite disappointed to see an actress of her calibre not pacing her performance in this play. As the landlady, Milly, she hit the higher end of her emotional range too early in the play. She then had had to maintain that level of intensity to the extent that it lost its impact. Carel Nel, an actor whom I also admire for his roles in Die Rebellie van Lafras Verwey and Tjop en Dop, seemed wooden and uncomfortable in the role of the tenant, Don. Francois Jacobs and Dania Gelderblom gave commendable performances as the dysfunctional, “poor white” couple, but with an ensemble that was already out of joint, they were treading water.
The play became too long. Towards the end, Milly and Don tell the other characters and the audience in long monologues what exactly they think is wrong with them. Firstly, this should be already evident through the action of the play. Secondly, to quote Stephanie in the TV series Mad Men: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves, and everybody else can see it right away.” Characters having that level of self-insight are unconvincing.
This was a rather underwhelming theatre experience, especially considering that it was a revival featuring established actors.