A few of everybody’s favourite things

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LISTEN to the worms! Georgina (Taryn Bennett) thinks of life, the universe and a box of worms. Photograph courtesy Contagious Theatre.

YOU KNOW THE little critters: you buy them off your buddies at primary school, pop them into a mulberry-leaf-filled shoe box with holes punched into the lid, and watch them chomp away and grow as you marvel at their fabulous metamorphosis. This new play, Silkworm, by the creative team that gave The Snow Goose its stage-wings and brought The Old Man and the Sea to magical life, offers a beautiful platform for a highly skilled performer, but it is Taryn Bennett’s performance rather than the work’s narrative structure and the tricks and gimmicks that holds it together, that will keep you focused and laughing.

A young woman fabulously named Georgina Aurora Clementine (Bennett), all kitted out in Italian clownish tradition, armed with acute social awkwardness and the kind of persona that evokes Klara van Wyk’s Prettina in her work You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths, will tell you a story of magic and possibility. Bennett reprises this role with great fondness and astuteness, allowing the character to play with the notion of make-believe as she teases her audience.

The work, clocking in at just one hour, will take you to the movies and on a date with a stranger in a jacket and a spot of tiramisu. It will take you to a picnic and onto the beach. And ultimately it will bring you back home to the marvellous miracle that silkworms are able to perform by vomiting kilometres of silk at a time. While some of the stories’ premises are totally delightful, the work doesn’t hang together with sufficient conviction to leave you perfectly satisfied.

You will laugh and you almost weep at a moment that concerns a fish who seems to be drowning, but you don’t: the narrative doesn’t push the poignancy of the work far enough. Bringing in members of the audience is easily the flaw in the piece. While it gets all the schadenfreude-based giggles, it doesn’t serve its approach well.

Having said that, Bennett is always a joy to watch. Her clowning skills, offering a conjoined reflection on a vulnerable character and physical presence, are tight, funny and sophisticated. And even if you don’t emerge from this play with its story clanging wisely in your heart, you will emerge with a sense of having seen someone do something gossamer thin yet lovely.

  • Silkworm is directed by Jenine Collocott with dramaturgical input by Nick Warren. It is performed by Taryn Bennett and this review is premised on a brief season at PopArts Theatre, Maboneng. It performs at Princess Alice Hall, during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown from June 28-July 5.

How to face up to a man in a panda suit

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TAKING no prisoners: Robert Hobbs is Brett in ‘Break Your Face’. Photograph courtesy Montecasino Theatre.

<<Warning: this show features strobe lights and deep base>>

When a show brings out all the technological tricks including violent strobes and deep bass too big for the venue before the story it tells has the time to stretch its wings and prove its fire, be afraid, be very afraid. Chances are, under these circumstances, said wings will not get their chance to flex and the banging and crashing of techno-boosts will become assaultative. This is the first impact of Robert Hobbs in Break Your Face, a violent and somewhat raw tale of love and truth, Beijing and pandas, which casts a rich spoof with a steady hand on the whole culture of motivational speaking.

Taking you from a depressed former bouncer in a Boksburg night club through to a five star restaurant in China and love and death amongst the petals and pandas, this is a piece enhanced by the kind of clowning performed by Klara van Wyk in You Suck! And Other Inescapable Truths, where the pathos of the central character is performed with devastating accuracy, leaving you feeling alive with a sense of moral queasiness and cringing in your seat.

Brett is the main character, drawing as he does, deeply into the white South African jargon, asides and idiosyncrasies. We get to meet a stereotypical reflection on Chinese culture and explore the gnarled and oft frot underbelly of what it takes to be a bouncer in a nightclub as we get on board a non-stop in your face array of an understanding of what the face means and does for an individual.

Certainly not the best work on the part of either Viljoen or Hobbs, this work mashes together our culture of violence, with our tendency towards taking self-deprecation to its extremes. Spoofing traditions of performance and dignity in a context in which hearts get broken, the piece places audience members in limbo on stage, baseball bat in hand, and nothing to hit.

In short, it’s a messy little show with a strong premise that is overshadowed by too much bombast and loud technology. As a result, the nub, value and fire of the piece itself are sorely compromised. Hobbs performs valiantly, but the material is not on his side. And the truly tragic image of a grown man in a panda onesie losing his temper on the phone is not something you can erase from your memory with enough rapidity.

  • Break Your Face is written and directed by Greg Viljoen and performed by Robert Hobbs, at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino until July 23. Visit pietertoerien.co.za or www.safferland.com

Haunted by Prettina

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SEVENTY per cent pretty: Klara van Wyk is Prettina. Photograph by Lauren Buckle.

BLENDING TENDERNESS WITH bravado, prickliness with utter vulnerability, Klara van Wyk has crafted a character which warrants status as the poster girl of contemporary high school bullying. Her work, You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths is a piece of advocacy theatre which stands its own ground in a regular theatre, but which will haunt you and make you remember bruises that you inflicted as a child – and/or the bruises and scars that were inflicted on you during those very same years. Beautifully constructed and performed with the clownish acumen you might have seen in van Wyk’s representation of Chalk Girl in collaboration with Jemma Kahn some years ago, this is one of those pieces that irrevocably is the voice of an era.

Prettina considers herself almost material for the ‘A’ group. She believes she’s 70% pretty and nearly there in terms of the popular set of the high school which she attends. Granted, she’s awkward in some ways. And she has a strict mom and she’s not really sure of the value of her Afrikaans heritage, other than as a stumbling block. But she knows the ropes of hip-hop, is an expert in the odd cultural skill of Eisteddfod, and can sing. And furthermore, she can see through the flaws of the class queens with ease, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be one of them.

Until she finds out why, that is. Rendered with the kind of dead-pan irony that evokes Nathaniël’s storytelling, the work is at once utterly breath-takingly hilarious and totally tragic. You want to embrace Prettina and tell her that there is so much more out there in the world, and yet, you cannot help roaring with (albeit utterly empathetic) laughter at her social faux pas. And the reason for this is as simple as it is complicated: You, too, are Prettina. Or you have been shades of her in your own way. And that’s true, whether or not you like to admit it, an inescapable fact which ramps up your laughter even more – even if it serves to camouflage old tears of rage and injustice.

There’s a deeper thread underlying the work, however, and structurally, this is supported with a level of brilliance that runs through it like a thread of quicksilver. It has to do with a mouse. And that mouse is present from the very first line in the script, as the lights come up, infused with prescience, like in a Greek tragedy. Constructed with a denouement that will give you goose bumps and make your hair stand on end, You Suck doesn’t pander to an audience. It is an unrelenting piece of potency which holds up the phenomenon of social media bullying to a very frightening mirror: this is the flailing voice of youth in our contemporary times. And it’s weeping, silently. Whatever else You Suck does, it will make you sit up and take notice – particularly if there are young children in your life.

  • You Suck and Other Inescapable Truths is written by Klara van Wyk and directed by Francesco Nassimbeni. Featuring design by Francesco Nassimbeni (set) and Richard de Jager (costumes), it is performed by Klara van Wyk, on demand at Western Cape schools. It will also enjoy a commercial run at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, June 29-July 9. Contact klara@gmail.com