Fatal direction

fatal

OOH, the lust: Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) gets all hot and heavy with Alex Forrest (Jazzara Jaslyn). Photograph courtesy Montecasino.

REMEMBER 1987? IN the flicks, it was a year of big hair and sexy killers. Glenn Close took on Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, a film that was to forever corrupt the basically benign one-night-stand with a right dousing of psychopathology at its most sinister. The stage version of this era-changing film is at the moment on stage at Montecasino, and sadly, it ain’t what you might expect.

It’s an easy story line: Nice married guy meets psychopath in a bar. She seduces him once, twice. And all hell breaks loose, destroying everything in its wake — children, bunnies, cars, the whole bang shoot. On a level, the story’s straight forward, but without the requisite electricity, it turns diabolical.

For one thing, Jazzara Jaslyn, the actress cast in the role of the scary Alex Forrest, the woman who takes Dan Gallagher (Ashley Dowds) by the libido and doesn’t let go till she’s wrought all the damage she means to, lacks the kind of sinister gravitas of the psychopath. What you get instead, is a rather shrill young woman whose hysteria buttons are pressed more potently than her manipulative force. She’s irritating more than horrifying.

And while good intentions have been invested in the paring of the work down to its bare bones, there are elements in its presentation which are so solemnly attempted and so cringeworthily achieved you have to consciously force yourself not to laugh. The silliest moments are in the sex acts themselves where a lumpen kind of choreography features, forcing the poor performers to mime orgasms. It’s so crudely directed that it jars everything, making you yearn for the days when sex on stage was taboo, and directors had to resort to creativity to convey nuance.

Indeed, the nuance department in this play seems to have been closed down at the outset. The text lacks the kind of electricity and drama that it warrants and even the notorious boiled bunny, which is what many former Fatal Attraction film audience members might remember, is sidestepped.

By and large, aside from the novel introduction of the idea of a cell phone as an alternate conversational space, this work is sanitised, wooden and miscast. Dowds in the pivotal male role does his best, representing a seriously nice guy who falls, hook, line and sinker into the maw of a monster, but in this work, he’s up against strange odds, two too young blond lasses (the wife, Beth, is played by Jenny Stead) and a harsh and inappropriate musical sound track, to say nothing of a very obnoxious back drop which just doesn’t work. It features an ambiguous melange of women’s faces against a venetian blinds kind of number. Only it’s so self-consciously mysterious and it’s so very very large, that it crushes the play from the get-go.

Hold on to your horrified and titillated memory of the film that redefined the idiom ‘fatal attraction’; this play skipped some time on the drawing board.

  • Fatal Attraction is written by James Dearden and directed by Paula Bangles. It is performed by Jo da Silva, Ashley Dowds, Jazzara Jaslyn, Jenny Stead and Alex Tops until May 6 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways. Call 011 511-1988 or visit http://www.pietertoerien.co.za
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Sashay with darling down memory lane

Darling

GIVING it eyebrows: Pieter-Dirk Uys transforms into Evita on stage before your very eyes. Photograph courtesy Netwerk 24.

WHEN OLD AGE and its vagaries come under the inestimable loupe of Pieter-Dirk Uys, you may believe you’re in for a laugh-a-second experience with a sharp and bitter edge, and you will not be wrong, but the tears fall amid the laughter, which sometimes sours on your face. When in doubt say ‘Darling’ is a foray into what it means to look back on a career and forward into the possibilities of dotage. It’s self-deprecating as is Uys’s wont, but replete with the one-liners that have defined him for decades, it’s a little tired.

Uys single-handedly defined the notion of holding a mirror up to the shenanigans of the state from the late 1970s, when the vicious madness of apartheid values were at their most self-absorbed and arguably most dangerous peak. He was the one who had the temerity to imitate PW Botha’s ugly grimace from beneath his hat in a way that brought that devil onto the stage, and made you laugh with hilarity because it felt so real, but you knew it wasn’t.

In this new show, Uys offers a taxonomy of South African leaders and insight into the complexity of pulling the mickey out of each of them. He even dusts off his Piet Koornhof mask, the one with the nose and the ears that unmistakably reflects the face of a man who held many different portfolios in the South African apartheid Cabinet, with his characteristically skewed morals and insinuatingly gentle voice. And mostly he looks at this box of monsters with a softened eye. With Thabo Mbeki and his Aids denialism as the obvious exception, of course.

Bringing a tear to your eye as he thinks of Winnie Mandela, Uys scans the newspaper and finds nothing of real moment. He brings a litany of his characters on stage – including his alter-ego, South Africa’s most famous woman, Evita Bezuidenhout, but the entourage is peppered with vignettes of another character, an old man, who is in the process of relocating to a retirement establishment. Accompanied by his dog Smelly, he’s in the process of packing his life into boxes. And what happens with this? The elderly hands need to be pried from objects that hold rusty memories but no real value. And it’s hard to watch.

Also, part of this work is the story behind Uys’s home in Darling, a town in the Western Cape. There are enough Darling metaphors and scenarios to put lipstick on your smiling mouth. There are tales of the children and the poverty of the place — stories of glee and pride. You laugh gently with this figure, who slips chameleonically through eras and identities, but you also sober up and acknowledge that the turning over of decades has rendered Uys an important elder of the theatre community. A unique and irreplaceable one. And this reason, as well as all the others makes it unequivocally a work to cherish.

  • When in doubt, say ‘Darling’ is written and performed by Pieter-Dirk Uys until April 22 at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino complex, Fourways. Call 011 511 1818 or visit pietertoerien.co.za
  • Read a critical analysis of how this work is seen to touch a nerve in contemporary politics, by Geoff Sifrin.

As good as it gets: War Horse

A charge scene. Photograph by Brinkhoff Mogenburg.

A charge scene. Photograph by Brinkhoff Mogenburg.

War Horse is unequivocally the show of a lifetime: if you don’t see another theatre production ever again in your life, see this one. It brings together all the unmitigated magic of hand hewn material constructed with sheer love, courage and self-belief; the four brief months in which you can see this South African-born production on local soil is too rare a chance to pass up.

From the moment the stage lights go up until the finale, this beautifully crafted masterpiece will keep you riveted to your seat. The three hour duration of this tale of the love of a horse, the Great War, loyalty and betrayal zips past so quickly, you don’t have time to lose focus, but you do get to fall in love with an oeuvre of puppetry by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler that brings base materials to sentient, real life.

Joey is a horse swayed and bruised by the vagaries of humanity. He’s auctioned; becomes the butt of a bet; and the apple of a young boy’s eye. He’s also the pivot to one of the most compelling and direct reflections on the First World War staged in this country in the last two decades. Replete with its reflection on trench warfare; the bravado of young men engaging in a war the likes of which had never before been experienced in the world; the horror of those same men, a couple of years down the line; the surreal irony of the no-man’s land and parents’ sense of helplessness in the face of conscription; it’s a deeply thoughtful piece, told with a deft hand and a beautiful sense of horse choreography.

From the moment the young foal puppet is walked on stage, the puppeteers become invisible. This model of work is not along the lines of any Japanese traditions where the operators wear black. Rather, there is no contrivance at all. Dressed in period costumes, the men and women that give these beautiful puppets life handle them with such delicacy and sensitivity that they disappear in the face of the fulsome presence of each puppet, from the horses to the birds to the tank.

The work is further enhanced by what appears to be a torn swatch of paper across the upper reaches of the set. It reflects projected charcoal and pencil drawings which meld so beautifully into the narrative, the effect really takes your breath away. Further to that, languages and dialects are dealt with with a sense of brilliance which never compromises the legibility of the work, which is woven through with Irish ballads, humour and sadness in careful and succinct measure.

Never teetering into the realms of twee-ness, War Horse is a hard-hitting, gripping tale of love, hate and ownership. It is intensely focused on the internal dynamics of the puppets but soars beyond your wildest expectations in the magic cast by the interface of performer and puppet. The creators of this work are magicians. Nay, gods.

  • War Horse is based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted for stage by Nick Stafford in association with the Handspring Puppet Company. It is directed by Alex Sims and features a set design and drawings by Rae Smith and William Fricker; puppets by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones; lighting by Paule Constable and Karen Spahn; choreography by Toby Sedgwick; music by Adrian Sutton; and sound design by Christopher Shutt and John Owens. It performs at the Teatro, Montecasino complex until November 30, and at Artscape Opera House in Cape Town from December 5 until January 4.
  • It is performed by Matt Addis, Lee Armstrong, Peter Ash, Emily Aston, Ashleigh Cheable, Joe Darke, David Fleeshman, Adam Foster, Bob Fox, Jason Furnival, Thomas Gilbey, Oliver Grant, Karl Haynes, Karen Henthorn, Steven Hillman, Michael Humphreys, Linford Johnson, Andrew Keay, Rebecca Killick, Tom Larkin, John Leader, Tim Lewis, Harry Lobek, Helen Macfarlane, Sean McKenzie, Alex Moran, Suzanne Nixon, Tom Norman, Joseph Richardson, Gavin Swift, Simeon Truby, Peter Twose, Richard Vorster, and Martin Wenner.