Review

Nothing to be afraid of

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ALAS, poor Yorick: Simon Fortin in ‘… Or not to be’. Photograph courtesy Auto & General Theatre on the Square.

LIKE IT OR not, death is the final prognosis of all of us, and veteran performer Simon Fortin takes this on with a full-hearted foray in his stage work … Or not to be, drawing on both Shakespeare’s litany and his own considerable experiences. Everything tender and sharp, from his own losses to his own embarrassments on stage comes under the loupe of this complex and sometimes hilarious one-hander.

It may give you pause to ponder the meaning of life, and as you’re doing so, you may ponder the formal constructs of this work too. Is it a play? Or is it a lecture dolled up with devices and presentations and curious narrative digressions? Either way, it steps along the path curated by writers of the ilk of English writer Julian Barnes, taking the death thing by its horns and pulling on it in several directions, including the writer’s own history and repertoire.

Fortin is a performer who has died on stage in numerous contexts: some gauche, others hilarious, others deeply moving. Here, he gathers your gaze and your head and doesn’t let go. There are more- and less sophisticated laughs in his repartee, as well as a nub of poignancy, a body under a sheet and a skull – à la Yorick, he of Hamlet fame – to contend with. Ultimately, the work, divided into several distinct parts and an epilogue, is quite text-heavy, however, and does feel a little long. Cast, written and conceived of, in the first person, this work is as much about Fortin himself as it is about the universal you.

And when it comes time to leave, you may not be armed with new insights as to what death is all about or what happens after the final breath is drawn, be it after King John’s excessively long exit, in the eponymous play, or Mimi’s tuberculotic farewell while singing at full throttle in La Bohème, but you’ll be rather heavily and quite deliciously peppered with the sage observations on the matter by the Bard himself.

  • … or not to be: How Shakespeare could change your death is written by Simon Fortin and directed by Christian Coulson. Produced by Paul Browde and François Taschereau, it features design input by Tashiro Studio (visual production) and Nirmal Chandraratna (original music). It is performed by Simon Fortin, stage-managed by Regina Dube at Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton until February 29. Call 011 883 8606.
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