Tricks and balances

CROSSROADS and surprises: Danielle Retief is Jess and Rowlen von Gericke is Martin, in Cat & Monkey, at Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until 6 May. Photograph by Philip Kuhn.

WHAT ARE THE odds that a hefty dose of chicanery, some treachery and a handful of sluttery will win the day? In Cat & Monkey, a work rewritten for stage based on the eponymous de la Fontaine fable of the 15th century, Danielle Retief and Rowlen von Gericke take the narrative values of a moral about bad people who will use naïve ones to their own ends and cast it against the fabric of two young people in a relationship. It’s on show for a brief season at Theatre on the Square in Sandton, until 6 May.

This is where you will meet Martin Scheepers, a fireman (von Gericke) and Jessica Walker (Retief), a bit of a psychic with a face that is not dissimilar from that of French-British actress Emma Mackey. In a story that presents a range of moral hairpin bends as surprising as those that that characterise the 1972 film Sleuth directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, which ponders the perfect crime, the play takes on life and death, hatred and love and everything in between. Or it attempts to, as earnestly as possible.

But von Gericke and Retief are alas, not Laurence Olivier or Michael Caine. Because Cat & Monkey, from its script to its execution doesn’t tap into the depths of depravity that can make a contemplation of scamming into a masterpiece of wit, the work sits implacably on the surface of many intriguing human issues. The characters are not developed. The texture of their engagement is bland.

It’s a Covid tale cast against the background of misbegotten money and manipulative games-playing, betting and the odds of a complicated friendship. It features many costume changes and a spot of stage smoke that gets alarmingly realistic. The work also suffers from a lack of narrative clarity, and with one too many red herrings tossed into its mix, you come out perplexed. The characters lack electricity between them. And the work, while well intentioned, is devoid of the crispness that would make it sparkle.

  • Cat & Monkey is adapted for stage by Danielle Retief and Rowlen von Gericke based on the 15th century fable Le Chat et le Singe. Directed by Karin Retief and performed by Danielle Retief and Rowlen von Gericke, it is on at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 6 May.

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