A burnished menagerie

MichaelTeffo

KING of the beasts, at rest and with mirth, a work by Michael Teffo. Photograph by Robyn Sassen.

IS IT CARVED wood? Or is it burnished clay? Maybe it is made of flesh and blood? Nothing is completely obvious in this biblically loaded exhibition of beasties which you know and others from the annuls of sculptor Michael Teffo’s sense of whimsy. Either way, you will want to eat the texture of these pieces,  currently on show at the SA Association of the Arts. Collectively, the work has a rich numinous quality to it, that doesn’t allow you to categorise what you see with ease. And as such, these monster-animals are compelling and friendly, magicking the smallness of the gallery space into something uncontainable.

There are close to 30 works in the narrow exhibiting space at the far end of the venue, and yet, they sit comfortably together – maybe waiting, like the sculptured hedges in Stephen King’s The Shining, to move surreptitiously when you aren’t looking.  Either way, the play of three dimensional work with relief carvings that are inked up and hung on the walls, is a complex curatorial achievement that doesn’t fight for air.

The biblical essence of this body of work is strong, but stronger is the manner in which incidents in the original chunks of what seems to be driftwood are given voice. There’s a dog that’s also a cock in this collection. And a frog that casts the limits of frogness to the wind. There’s a lion that embraces the joys of his power with a torsion that is as much about ‘lionness’ as it is about a gnarled piece of wood worked on with love and focus.

It’s an exhibition of whimsy and the bible that will engage the curious child in you, but this is not to say that the work is unsophisticated or childish. Rather, it is about grabbing the quirky essence of a beast and allowing it to peer through the reddened or blackened surface of the medium and in doing so, skip the boundaries of taxonomy, with levity and grace.

A pocketful of stones and forgotten words

Moedertaal

BABY shoes and how to let go. Sandra Prinsloo in Moedertaal. Photograph courtesy Brooklyn Theatre.

WHAT IS IT that sews the fabric of a family together? It’s the laughter and the disappointments, it’s the shared sadnesses and the making and breaking of rules. And above all, it’s the language. Moedertaal (mother tongue) is a beautifully crafted Afrikaans slice of life, written – and directed and designed – by Nico Scheepers. It is brought to astonishingly raw and sophisticated life by the inimitable Sandra Prinsloo.

You may have seen her in Die Naaimasjien by Rachelle Greeff. You may have seen her in Oskar en die Pienk Tannie by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. Either way, you know you’re in for a masterclass in performance, and she doesn’t disappoint. But it’s a collaborative victory: This work takes that reflection on loss and illness to a higher level. Constructed and designed like a Greek tragedy, with the presence of the sea in the background from the get-go until the shattering denouement, the narrative is clear and bold and the sense of devastation it embodies is intimate and personal, yet overwhelmingly universal.

There’s a bronze Holocaust memorial sculpture made by Karl Biedermann in 1996 in the city of Berlin. Entitled The Deserted Room, it’s a very simple yet utterly cataclysmic work which comprises renditions of two straight-backed chairs and a table. One chair is violently cast on its back, on the floor. The rest is commentary. It is the subtlety and simplicity on this level that makes Moedertaal a powerful cipher for tragedy that you don’t need to have spelled out.

The chairs, the small pale blue canvas takkies, some beach sand and stones on the beach. These are all the tools necessary to create a whimsical and wonderful tale of language and forgetting how, of having and losing, and of growing old with the idea of Virginia Woolf’s suicide in one’s pocket. It’s a story of Pinnochio and the tragic hilarity of madness, and with truly devastating subtlety offers an understanding of incomprehensible life changes and the unforeseeable devil around the next corner that sullies one’s sense of self, as it smudges clarity of memory.

Without being literal, and infused with poetry and magic, humour and the need to let go, the work is evolved and strong, stripping the souls of the characters represented completely naked. A piece of this nature, with this story as a framework could easily skirt with soppiness or crass sensationalism, but in these hands – those of Scheepers, and those of Prinsloo – it sings with a genuineness that will leave you weeping for more.

  • Moedertaal is written, directed and designed by Nico Scheepers. It is performed by Sandra Prinsloo at the Brooklyn Theatre in Menlo Park, Pretoria until February 4. Call 012 460 6033 or visit www.brooklyntheatre.co.za

Feverish for that acid green sedan

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GETTING on his boogie shoes: Daniel Buys as Tony Manero. Photograph courtesy http://jozistyle.joburg/saturday-night-fever/

PICTURE THE SCENARIO. It’s the mid-1970s in the boroughs of New York City, and white working class teenagers are dancing themselves wild because there’s nothing else to do to keep body and soul together, other than joining the church or getting a low-key boring job. The opening chords – both musically and visually – of the current production of Saturday Night Fever, punctuated with classic songs from the Bee Gees articulates this with aplomb.

But it is the inadequate balance of sound and vocals, some truly grotesque choreography and underwhelming performances that leaves the production wanting. And yes, it’s a dated show, reflecting petty racisms and sexisms of teenagers in America from 40 years ago, but it’s still deemed an iconic classic; had it been performed with slickness, its sense of anachronism would have been forgivable.

Further, if you’re a die-hard Bee Gees fan, you, too, might be disappointed while you wait to be swept away on a swathe of nostalgia by your favourite tunes penned and originally performed by brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb in that distinctive falsetto.

Shows recreated in the last couple of years under the Broadway rubric, such as The Jersey Boys, which performed in South Africa in 2013, directed  by West Hyler, or Dream Girls of 2011, under the direction of Brittney Griffin, were performed in such a way that a song could freeze the moment, cause tears to fall and grown men and women to dance, weeping with love, in the aisles, whether or not they were alive when that music was fashionable. This doesn’t happen in this rendition of Saturday Night Fever. Rather, the music seems toned to be beneath the rather flimsy tale of the dreams of a poor boy to find the girl and the dance moves he deems his.

So, what happens is you struggle to hear the dialogue. The microphones attached to the performers’ foreheads force the sound out at such a level, that the words reverberate in the vast shell of the venue and smash against one another, becoming by and large inaudible. The dancing, with lots of really bizarre lifts and front splits for the women, is neither elegant nor erotic. Does it evoke the ethos of disco chaos of the seventies? Maybe. Certainly the costumes fit the era carefully, with the girls’ leotards and boys bell-bottoms – and of course the inimitable white three-piece suit which John Travolta brought into common fashion parlance with the 1977 film.

Daniel Buys in the starring role of Tony Manero has the voice and the moves, but lacks the sense of authority that a performer like Travolta exuded in this work. Instead, you find yourself trying to remember which one’s the one, when he and his buddies are out on the street.

Having said all of that, Matthew Berry playing the hapless Bobby C, one of Tony’s boys opposite Kiruna-Lind Devar as Pauline, Bobby C’s sweetheart arguably create several moments in this show which redeems the trek to the State Theatre. Beautifully cast, both of these young performers embrace the nuances of their – albeit tiny – roles, with fullness, sensitivity and dignity. They sing beautifully and liaise with conviction.

And then, there’s the acid-green 1970s sedan on the set, which is such a remarkably lovely idea that it should have been written about in the programme. Its elegant unpretentious curvaceousness, even the way in which its boot no longer closes properly, lends a tone of the time and flavour of the era which is irrepressible.

Indeed, the machinery of the set of the State Theatre is another element to this production which takes your breath away. Comprising numerous elevators in a variety of sizes, to say nothing of structures which move in on cue and on wheels, the world of the underbelly of New York is brought with all its dirty sham, drudgery and dreams, onto this stage in Pretoria in a manner so beautifully co-ordinated it rips your attention from the dynamics on stage. Here, you get to see inside Tony’s house, with his upstairs bedroom. There’s the park, and the apartment of Stephanie Mangano (Natasha van der Merwe) who grabs Tony by the libido, the bridge central to the tale and the disco venue itself.

Sadly, the State Theatre remains a conundrum for the regular theatre patron, and this old bastion of culture feels like a building site. The downstairs parking leaks and many bays are not accessible because the building’s in disrepair as a result of neglect. There are bits and chunks of the venue that are defined by shrill warnings to the public to stay away because they are unsafe, and huge electrical cords hang in disarray across the opera venue’s walls – a venue which remains as oblivious to safety needs of theatre venues as it was when it was first opened in 1981.

  • Saturday Night Fever based on the eponymous Paramount/RSO film and the story by Nik Cohn was originally adapted for stage by Robert Sligwood and Bill Oaks. It is directed by Greg Homann with design by Rowan Bakker (musical direction), Weslee Swain Lauder (choreography), Denis Hutchinson (set and lighting), Sarah Roberts (costumes) and TrevOr Peters (sound). It is performed by Joanna Abatzoglou, Matthew Berry, Cameron Botha, Vanessa Brierly, Daniel Buys, Kiruna-Lind Devar, Londiwe Dhlomo, Keaton Ditchfield, Toni Jean Erasmus, Devon Flemmer, Zane Gillion, Nurit Graff, Nathan Kruger, Sebe Leotlela, Clint Lesch, Brandon Lindsay, Phumi Mncayi, Bongi Mthombeni, Raquel Munn, L J Neilson, Mark Richardson, Phillip Schnetler, Craig Urbani, Natasha van der Merwe, Steven van Wyk and Charmaine Weir-Smith, and an off-stage band under the direction of Rowan Bakker and Drew Rienstra: Donny Bouwer (trumpet), Jason Green (bass), Maureen Marler (‘cello), Dan Selsick (trombone), Kuba Silkiewicz (guitar), Brian Smith (reeds), P W van der Walt (drums), Daline Wilson (violin), at the Opera Theatre in the State Theatre complex, Pretoria, until October 9. Call 012 392 4000 or visit statetheatre.co.za

Thirty years of gods, bulls and other beasties

JohannMoolman

WORTH worshipping? Johann Moolman’s Place of the Rain Bull, a work in stone and rusted mild steel. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

FIFTY YEARS, A hundred or more from now, what will archaeologists retrieve to establish who we were as a society and what made us tick? Shape-Shift, a retrospective exhibition by Johann Moolman contemplates that idea of obsolescence with a strong sense of history but not without a wry grin at the hubris of our society.

Moolman’s name, if you’ve been following visual art for awhile, hasn’t been headlined in local commercial galleries for some time, and this exhibition makes it feel the time is right for a revisit of these quirky, curious and beautiful pieces, made with a strong hand, potent craftsmanship and a capricious sense of possibility. The show comprises paintings, sculptures and relief works, but also altered found objects.

But while the work feels prolific, the space is limited, and as you walk into the gallery, you feel bombarded: the show seems to cram too much into too small a space.

As you move deeper into the space, however, this shifts. The gallery’s main space comprises one large room, one smaller room and a garden, into which the work spills. Curiously, the smaller room in the establishment doesn’t feel as cluttered as the large space – rather, the closely ranged pieces feel like a friendly crowd. They cluster with a sense of their own poetry and the installation is a comfortable one, resonating with the kind of curatorial ethos that was achieved in Wits Art Museum’s retrospective of the work of Peter Schütz last year.

There are two clear poles in the material – while some of it tends toward naturalism, some of it reaches toward a diagrammatic reflection of values and it is the latter which makes you smile and gives you a sense of awe. To its credit, the work is not curated with a numbingly rigorous sense of chronology and early works neighbour later ones, offering a fine and witty sense of repartee.

As you run your eyes up the length of a tall thin piece to discover a delightful head with simple horns, you realise this is much more than a simple stick. It’s a god. It’s a rain bull. It has presence. Run your eye down the work, and in some instances you will discover emblematic breasts, a pregnant belly or a penis jutting out of the work – delightful signs that give this creature a therianthropic nature: is this a man or a beast? Is it a girl or a boy? Is it a mix between the two?

It evokes the tall drums from Ghana, Ashante and Luba culture, which are gendered – as well as figures in African traditional pieces, as it touches on the succinctness of Brancusi’s sculptures.

And yes, this work flits between values cast by European modernism in relation to an African aesthetic and more self-conscious contemporary manoeuvres. But after all the vociferous debates surrounding this kind of approach, you need to be able to see the items for what they are. This rain bull’s head is clearly an evocatively shaped stone and yet mantled and horned as it is, it becomes something else. This shaped stick is a portal into another world, and that squat form is a symbol of sexuality. Tribute is paid to Henry Moore, to our human ancestors and to our traditions of ferreting histories.

It’s the kind of show that deserves a national museum space and a gallery season that warrants long contemplative hours of looking and thinking, but in the absence of all these wishful ideals, and even in the absence of a corridor of space between some of the works, it is still the kind of show that will touch you in a multitude of ways, and the tightly-packed crowd of close to 60 works becomes forgivable in the light of the thrill you get in being able to see a trajectory of 30 years of thoughtful incisive work.

  • Shape-Shift by Johann Moolman is at Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) in Brooklyn, Pretoria until August 13. 012 346 0158 www.friedcontemporary.com

Broken Bird, Fly Free

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OUTSIDERNESS personified: Elu in the Goatfoot God — Pan. “I’m on the outside. An outcast in the dance community. They’ll never accept me. I don’t know why,” Elu told dance critic Adrienne Sichel in the 1990s.

A DANCER WHO was capable of provoking guttural fear in his audience and critics because of the unstinting quantity and quality of beauty, bravery and intensity he was able to give his performances, South African choreographer and performance artist Elu, passed away suddenly after a six-week illness, on July 17. A dancer not afraid to shatter all traditions relating to dance in the name of the fierceness and the magic that he was creating, Elu was a quietly spoken person, with strong opinions and passionate beliefs. He contributed significantly to the performance art discipline in South Africa and was the life partner and creative collaborator of Steven Cohen from 1997.

Born in Pretoria on June 17 1968, Elu was trained in contemporary dance and classical ballet at Pretoria Technikon. But it was from 1992 that he began developing his own approach to the medium of dance, engaging with the world from within a perspective enhanced by his unremitting readiness to push the boundaries of his body and his audiences.

Elu debuted professionally at Barclay Square in Pretoria in 1992 with a work called The People’s Lib and When to Pass the Ashtray and he created several other pieces over the next couple of years, for platforms such as the Dance Umbrella and the Arts Alive Festival. Elu met and began collaborating with Steven Cohen in 1997 in a turnkey work for both their careers, called The Art of Kissing, which was part of the Arts Alive Street Theatre festival, of that year, but was also staged as an impromptu performance outside the Supreme Court of Johannesburg, where the couple stood on a podium and kissed for several hours. Inside the court, anti-homosexual legislation was under review, at the time.

Describing himself as an “Afrikaans-speaking pagan working with an English-speaking Jew”, Elu – a name he adopted, which is an acronym for “Elephant Lion Unicorn”, playing into the therianthropic nature of the creature that he was most comfortable recognising himself as – was profoundly supportive of Cohen’s developing ethos. Between 1997 and 2002, Elu and Cohen together made deeply important works for the growing discipline of guerrilla performance art in South Africa. These significantly anarchic pieces dealt with the notion of impromptu appearances for audiences that were not sanctioned by the safe environment of a theatre or dance stage, and included Living Art, a suite of four seminal works, for which Cohen won the Vita Art Award of 1998.

There are unforgettably beautiful images captured by photographers such as the late John Hodgkiss, Caroline Suzman and John Hogg in works by Elu including Intersection, choreographed by Cohen, where Elu danced in a tutu with a gun strapped to his head in busy intersections of Johannesburg, to speak of the violence in our society. In a series of works entitled the Goatfoot God, Pan, Kudu, Tristesse and Broken Bird respectively, Elu developed a rich and meaningful iconography which was about the serenity of a mythical entity and the rottenness of a contemporary urban society corrupted from within. He was a dancer able to explore frenetic ferocity as he was able to express extreme vulnerability and beauty with his face and body.

His work of 2001, Dancing with Nothing But Heart broke new ground. It was premised as a comment on a lack of funding for the arts and was performed at that year’s Dance Umbrella. The work had no music and no costumes. Elu was naked and danced with an ox’s heart, bought from the inner city butchers for a few rand.

Cohen and Elu were head-hunted by Régine Chopinot of Ballet Atlantique in Paris and invited to spend a one-year research residency in La Rochelle in 2002. Elu was a central collaborator and co-choreographer with Cohen in I Wouldn’t Be Seen Dead in That which was developed in La Rochelle and travelled to South Africa to be the key note work of 2003’s Dance Umbrella. But it was also in that year, that Elu performed Pan 1 and Tristesse at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Elu’s exceptional repertoire reflected upon him as an intensely beautiful and sophisticated performer engaging the realities of paganism and the challenges of a world fraught with confusion and evil in a way that was timeless and seductive. His contribution to the field of dance was never, during Elu’s lifetime, given the pride of place it truly warranted. Elu’s struggle for the last decade of his tragically short life was sadly not unique in the arts fraternity in South Africa. He died alone, away from the ability to make new work, excluded from the reach of critical acknowledgement, financial support or medical assistance. An outsider – as he described himself to art critic Adrienne Sichel in the 1990s – to the very bitter end.

Intimate days of wine and roses

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CHAMPAGNE and susurration: Karin Preller’s painting ‘Whispering’. Photograph courtesy Fried Contemporary Art Gallery.

INSTINCTIVELY, YOU CAN hear the gentle, almost innocuous concatenation of 1960s office party dialogue as you look at these paintings, with the delicate clink of glasses and the understated and polite chatter, the men in their tuxedos and cufflinks and the women in their cocktail best. You can almost smell their perfume as they whisper. This is Karin Preller’s latest body of exhibited work, and in many respects, while it rests firmly on her own traditions of foraging through personal photographic archives, which she has established over many years, it takes unprecedented leaps in refreshing and important directions for her oeuvre.

Intimately ensconced in what is known as the Collectors’ Room of the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, these seven pieces in blue tints and tones boast brushmarks which are looser than we’ve ever seen of Preller. What happens is the hard-boiledness and the irrepressible sense of perfection takes a side seat to something far more compelling, less containable and more indicative of the artist’s maturity.

While the works are dim in their tonality and present a slice of life that can at times feel harsh, the energy and subtlety of the work gives it the gravitas to stand on its own, and yet, as in The Unofficial Party, where a young woman in her shift dress sits on a verandah chair and smokes, a playful pathway into the untrammeled sexiness of the era, the fabric of the time, is honed.

And similarly, there’s a painting which takes a detail of another work, called Function 1960s and blows it up. Here, the two women side by side, become almost gestural shapes. But what they seem to lose in their polished sense of identity, they gain in terms of the subtlety and the directness of the painting itself. You look upon the relationship of startling hints of venetian yellow against the deep teal of the work, and the swathe of colour which describes the dress of the woman on the right, and you think directly of the work of German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, sans the crude and harsh colours.

Less emotionally bleak than her previous body of work, Preller’s Extracts, which also includes three strong slice-of-life drawings in charcoal on paper, is an immensely vital development for her as a painter. Looking at these pieces, it feels as though Preller’s whole career of working with photographs, memories and the cloying intractable nature of paint was pointing toward this kind of direction.

  • Extracts, an exhibition of new work by Karin Preller is on show in the Collectors’ Room at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) Brooklyn, Pretoria, until July 23. 012 346 0158 or www.friedcontemporary.com

An unsilencable voice: a fine tribute to a great South African

Enormity: Ralph Lawson plays Alan Paton. Photograph courtesy State Theatre, Pretoria.

Enormity: Ralph Lawson plays Alan Paton. Photograph courtesy State Theatre, Pretoria.

He sits in a beautiful space, filled with books and he contemplates the relentless enormity of loss. This simple gesture is the delicate pivot to A Voice I cannot Silence, a new South African play which gives flesh and poetry to a reflection on the life of Alan Paton (1903-1988), arguably, one of this country’s most important novelists and educators – and the writer of Cry the Beloved Country (1948).

It’s a three hander, cast with great effect around Paton’s words, paying tribute to his second marriage with a woman called Anne Hopkins – played magnificently by Clare Mortimer – who first came into his life as a secretary. Hinged on his political opinions and gestures, his life, his foibles and vulnerabilities, the play is nothing short of a masterpiece: honed with a great level of respect and dignity, the work, in the hands of lesser performers might have been text heavy, but with Lawson in the central role opposite Mortimer, with Menzi Mkhwane reflecting on the children that passed through Paton’s hands,  text is nimbly cast between performers in a way that evokes the quick give and take of shuttlecocks in badminton.

Indeed, the Englishness of Hopkins is splayed wonderfully across the work, offering an understanding of three very diverse cultures and political positions in a country rooted in racist values and suffocating its own potential with legislation. And indeed, this is a very dignified and respectful play, but the poetry of the language, the construction of the work, the presence of birds, bullfrogs and crickets and the thoughtful weaving together of diverse ideas yields a piece which is delicate and crisp, whilst it remains formal. Never boring, deeply incisive, this is a really special play.

And while Paton is given empathetic three dimensionality as a principal, a politically conscious individual and a crotchety yet lovable ageing icon, the unfathomable void that great loss brings is filtered through this work with a deft hand and an impeccable sense of delivery. If you have known loss in any capacity, these words will talk directly to your pain.

Similar in structure to Athol Fugard’s The Shadow of the Hummingbird, performed in Johannesburg last August, this work offers an even greater sense of reflection. Never stooping to hero-worship or hollow self-deprecation, the piece is a portrait of a great man, which is deeply touching in so many ways, from his sense of self to the heartbreaking tales of the youngsters Paton worked with as a reformatory warden who transmogrified into a principal, touching and enriching their brokenness.

The only issue with the set was the occasional glaring of the desk lamp into the face of the audience, which is distracting. Having said that, the production works beautifully in the generous space of the State Theatre’s Momentum theatre – that small space without wheelchair access at the end of a long corridor and a narrow flight of stairs – but the bigger context of the theatre complex is far from welcoming to the general public: there’s a crass and disturbing haphazardness in the environment which feels disrespectful. Know, however, that A Voice I Cannot Silence is so wisely made, performed with such an intense and rich understanding of the value Paton brought to the South African narrative, that if you’re travelling from Johannesburg to see the work, it will not be a 50km driven in vain.

Hopefully this play will have considerable legs nationally, in the not too distant future. It’s an important and beautiful reflection of one of South Africa’s heroes.

  • A Voice I Cannot Silence is written by Greg Homann and Ralph Lawson. It is directed by Greg Homann and features design by Nadya Cohen (set), Michael Broderick (lighting) and Evan Roberts (soundscape). It is performed by Ralph Lawson, Menzi Mkhwane and Clare Mortimer at the Momentum Theatre, State Theatre complex in Pretoria, until October 24. Visit statetheatre.co.za

Cry the beloved Hunger

The community shrieking their worth in cohesion, in Hungry. Photograph by Sanmari Marias.

The community shrieking their worth in cohesion, in Hungry. Photograph by Sanmari Marias.

An ambitious work, which fills the auditorium with a messy residue of many stories that are either unresolved or resolved so without narrative challenge that they fall flat, Hungry is a play  lent life support by its design, but it doesn’t hold its own in the storytelling, performative or direction stakes.

Like its name suggests, this is a play about hunger as a result of poverty in a generic township, called Lusaka. It’s also about corruption and abuse in a whole range of aspects. And with an astonishing disregard for the power of the medium of theatre, it’s populated with crass over-acting and a disrespect for the audience, couched in gimmicks in which performers spill into the audience, demanding money or sex or body searches. These elements are invasive: don’t touch me physically while I watch your play – perform convincingly enough to touch me emotionally or spiritually.

Coupled with this is a script which reveals the white performers in the cast as insensitive and crude in their interface with the township dwellers.

We meet Gaddafi (a performer whose name is not mentioned in any of the theatre’s press material), a community leader, styled so much on rhetoric from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, that he lacks cohesion with the play itself. He is supported and then subsumed by his sidekicks Mpho (Chokwe) and Maponyane (Molele), in a split of the narrative which slides off ambiguously into financial corruption: this part of the story is told in an element of the set which reads as the home of journalist Johan: wheels on the staircase make this clear, but not before some silly ambiguities set in.

We meet Johan (Auret) and his young adult son Dries (McEwan), with their own issues to bury. In what seems to be a journalistic fact-finding mission, they land up further messing up the lives of a township family, already governed by the vagaries of poverty – and its offspring – illness, hunger, abuse and sex crimes. There are faint echoes of the heartbreaking story line in Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country in a contemplation of how a family gets broken by the lure of money in the big city, but it’s told limp-wristedly and you find yourself working really hard to try and believe or be empathetic toward any of the characters.

And what do we get out of the whole experience? It’s a meandering, messily told tale about values. It’s too long, fraught with red herrings and not convincingly researched: no one knows where the daughter of the township family is, but Dries, a white novice in township values, finds her on a seemingly first attempt – she’s a city-based prostitute – and makes a valiant attempt to get her to talk about her mother, instead of having the proffered ‘suck and fuck’ for R50. It doesn’t tally: neither character is sufficiently developed for this grotesque aspect of the play to hold.

But what drives you and makes you sit up straight in the audience, is how the set interacts with the narrative. As a journalist, Johan handles a very large video camera for his work. Oddly, it seems mostly when his son works the thing that the footage is broadcast onto the set, developing a resonance between what the cast is experiencing, and what you experience, in the audience. Comprising sheets of torn and otherwise mangled plastic, there’s a beautiful sense of the vulnerability of skin, broken, scarred and damaged cast across it.

The set, itself, filled with these untrammeled bits of detritus, is magnificently threatening: it’s a space, replete with hanging fluorescents and bits of brick, that speaks eloquently of disuse, dis-ease and social disease, and enables and transparent embrace of the guitarist, whose raw sounds lend texture to the work.

Sadly, in entirely, Hungry is a very weak show: it reeks of the amateur community engagement that is apartheid’s miserable legacy. And it hurts and disrespects its performers with insufficient direction and structure. It’s a missed opportunity: Pretorian audiences deserve better.

  • Hungry, written and directed by Aubrey Sekhabi, with input by Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom and research by Otsile Ntsoane features design by Wilhelm Disbergen, is performed by a cast of 14, including Brandon Auret, Sanku Bakaba, Tshallo Chokwe, Cameron McEwan and Josias Molele and performs at the Arena theatre, State Theatre Complex, Pretoria, until June 8 (012)392-4000.