IN 1984, DAVID Jones directed a delicate little film called 84 Charing Cross Road. It starred Anne Bancroft opposite Anthony Hopkins. It was a low key work which got critical acknowledgement but not a great deal of audience love, simply because the closure it embraces is death, rather than love. It tells of the letters written over decades between a New York book lover and a London antique bookshop owner, a friendship that begins professionally and filters into a love that remains forever unrequited. Something similar is engaged with Waiting for Jack, a story framed at the cusp of the Second World War.
But it’s a raucous, vulgar little piece which also veers quite close to the kind of images that German Expressionist artist Otto Dix made of the crudeness of society between the two world wars. Have a look at Dix’s etchings, drawings and paintings, particularly of prostitutes from this period, and you will see something of Lola Antoinette (Aimée Goldsmith), the character in her too-tight and too-short dress, with the suspenders of her stockings constantly on view. The roughness of her accent generally filters into a convincing representation of this type of French courtesan, battered and bruised by the morass into which society was slipping with the war itself.
Goldsmith performs opposite Duane Behrens (Jack), who embodies other side of the stereotypical spectrum. He’s s stiff upper-lip Englishman, a medic, who falls in love with the hapless Lola, she of the sad eyes, and wants to make an honest woman of her, by marrying her.
The story is told not through their direct dialogue or emotional intercourse – or any other kind, for that matter – but through letters that they write to one another, during the thick of war confusion, whilst he is on the front and she is entertaining Nazis or whoever crosses her path. And this is where the play’s own premises are hurt. In a written correspondence, in the give and take between the writers, you are given to understand that they are never able to directly talk or answer one another, logically.
The quick repartee at the climax of the work suddenly breaks the illusion of the correspondence. When did they meet? Are they now seeing one another in person? Has the metaphor set up so beautifully in the work’s opening scene at a railway station summarily been crushed? Why? You’re not given insight into all of these values or apparent shifts in focus.
Featuring the glorious songs of Edith Piaf composed during the 1930s and 1940s, the play contains the guttural rawness of Paris’s Little Sparrow’s voice and lyrics, bemoaning the brokenness of society. At one point, Lola sings along to Piaf’s impassioned and bitter song Bravo pour le clown, which, can almost be forgiven for the anachronism (the song was first published in 1953 and the events under the play’s focus happen earlier), as it lends the work a brazen wildness as Lola loses all inhibition and paints her face garishly as she adopts all the classic poses of the debauched whore.
While there’s a compelling use of suitcases which pinpoint the map and events of the war, as it unfolds, replete with victories and blood in turn, there’s also a luscious set which doubles as the tatty boudoir of this courtesan as well as the soiled anonymity of a station waiting room.
Waiting for Jack has all the elements of a gem of a foray into the debaucherie of war life, but logical schisms in the material hold it back.
- Waiting for Jack is written and directed by Lidija Marela and designed by Karabo Legoabe (set) and Nthabiseng Makone (costumes). It is performed by Aimée Goldsmith and Duane Behrens, at Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until August 13. 011 883 8606 or theatreonthesquare.co.za