Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Unconquered by Mary and The Conqueror

My date (a theatre loving actress) and I popped off to Artscape‘s Arena last night for the opening of The New Writing Season’s 2011 first offering, Juliet Jenkin’s Mary and The Conqueror. I am feeling particularly indebted to those involved in this programme because of the support, belief and opportunity they gave my play The Tent, so I really wanted to love this production but I really didn’t.

The premise is; on a beach in some weird waiting afterlife, Mary Renault the author meets one of her historical characters that she was obsessed with, Alexander the Great. This is how they both end up reflecting on the loves of their lives, both same sex relationships. After analysing their lives and accepting some stuff Mary is able to ‘get into the water’ with Alexander and leave.

The cast is Diane Wilson, Adrienne Pearce, Armand Aucamp and Francis Chouler and they are directed by Roy Sargeant.

The big question about this production, and the play itself, is why? What’s the point? No doubt there are answers somewhere but they don’t end up on stage. The interactions between Mary and Alexander drag on repetitively, with her responding in the same way to his questions (and in the same tone) and he refusing to give a straight answer in a weird coughing up of trying to find the words. While both boys are terribly pretty in their little white Speedos (why little white Speedos, I have no idea) we have no real sense of the lives that they lead, and the ups and downs of the relationship between the conqueror and his general ends up feeling a little trite and immature, and mostly, quite boring. It’s hard to follow all the talking about stuff that happened or will happen, but never happens on stage. It’s odd hearing them speak in a funny pseudo Italian accent. It’s awkward watching them pose and swagger, caress and fight. It’s a bit like chaaf chaaf acting, even though they are both very pretty in their little white Speedos (or have I already said that?).

The women fare a little better with a more genuine and earnest exploration of their relationship, but it’s also repetitive, and predictable. Their secret love affair, played out against the background of a conservative Camps Bay community never quite sparks to life after the promise of the first scene, although I really enjoyed Adrienne Pearce’s character and performance.

The moment of the piece for me was Adrienne Pearce in her monologue; slightly different from the style of the rest of the play, where she is shatteringly revealing about becoming ill, and it is deeply moving. We needed many more of these.

Part edutainment/reenactment historical, part secret same gender relationships in a tough time, part how to live with a difficult and ambitious figure, nothing really gets going here. While Alfred Rietmann does a great job of making it look beautiful, it’s all a little pointless and rather dreary. Sorry.

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21 Comments

  1. It’s not a “funny pseudo Italian accent”, it’s a funny pseudo Macedonian accent! (Why, oh why can some people just not tell the difference?)

  2. megan

    Thanks Adrian, I would have hated to have gotten away with that.

  3. Derrick_43

    Hi Megan

    I love your posts! But I also loved this play! Think all delivered more than they’re being credited.

  4. megan

    Hey Derrick
    What a great way of telling me you disagree. Respect.

  5. Adrienne

    Megan, thanks for your lovlies about my monologue –
    After the praise though, I would’ve expected you to
    spell my surname correctly. It’s Pearce hon.
    Ja I know. . . .never expect. . .

  6. megan

    Shit Adrienne, and just when I got the front part right. Will edit forthwith!

  7. Grant

    I don’t understand why everyone’s raving about Alfred Rietman’s dreary set. Please will someone explain its merits to me?

  8. megan

    I liked the long, alternating blue and white drapes, accentuating the length of the space and giving it subtle movement. I liked the deck which helped establish an outdoorsy feel and help keep the whole space neutral.

  9. Diane Wilson

    What sort of accent would you have liked for the ancient Greeks? South African? British? There was a lot of research done and a professor of classics consulted. The prof was the accent advisor. My 15 year old grandson did the V.O. for the young Alexander IN ancient Macedonion.
    Sorry we couldn’t please YOU though. Spent many hours listening to interviews with Mary Renault to get HER tone and accent right too. Sorry THAT didn’t please you either.

  10. megan

    Well Diane, since you asked, I think it’s fair to say that none of the research and hours of listening translated well on stage. Sorry.

  11. Diane Wilson

    Maybe if you’d PAID for your ticket, you would have been interested enough to read some programme notes.
    Anyway, you are entitled to your opinion but you haven’t answered my question. What accent would you have liked ancient Greek boys to have? According to the expert, the Macedonion accents were spot on.
    I don’t know why I am bothering to reply to you.Actually don’t bother to answer. Subject closed.

  12. megan

    Diane and the rest of the cast, it has been pointed out to me that I was totally flip about the accents and you are right. I know nothing about an ancient Macedonian (not Macedonion, Di) accent and I made a horrible mistake. I would like to say sorry about that. I respect the fact that though it might be strange to my ear I do not know what it should sound like.

  13. Gill Katz

    I hope the play makes it to Jozi!

  14. Graham Sonnenberg

    I totally disagree with this review. The play is clever and beautifully written, though not I suppose for those for whom theatre sports is intellectually stimulating. I suppose I am a bit biased because I knew Julie Mullard very well and my father who accompanied me knew Mary Renault as well as Julie. We both agreed that the play captured who they were with amazing accuracy. Bravo Diane Wilson and Adrienne Pearce for finely observed performances. The white “speedos” like Alfred Rietmann’s set, were obviously intended to be abstract and managed to set the piece in time and place pretty well I thought

  15. megan

    Graham, nothing like an intellectually stimulating abstract white “speedo”, to set the piece in time and place.

  16. Sarah Winterly

    Megan, say what they will, but you really are a supporter of theatre. Whether you like a show or not, this is your blog and it’s your prerogative to write as you please. I do however feel, through this review and your snotty replies to comments, that you have some sort of personal issue with one or more of the people involved in this production. Correct me if I’m wrong. I loved this quirky interpretation, and yes, program notes were/are important! But as I said, you GO TO THE THEATRE. More than most can say…

  17. Oh, hooray! Another spectacular bunfight in Megan’s Gladiator Pit of post-Theatre Review comments!! *jumping up and down in the spectator seats*

  18. megan

    Sarah, I thought I would just shoosh after your comment but I think it is important to say that no, I do not have a personal issue with any of the people involved in this production. Rather, people who are involved in the production are leaving snotty comments. Obviously that is going to sound personal. As usual, if I dislike something there are those that attack me for it here. My good review, above, for Another Friggin’ Tribute Show has generated zero comments. What do you think? I think that my interaction with Derrick, above, shows exactly how open I am to disagreements, all in the nicest possible way. To slag me off about Theatresports though got me a bit upset. Really!

  19. Well said. Everybody. (Well, almost: there are some who felt it necessary to take personal swipes).

    It’s remarkably brave of Megan to express her opinions so candidly and to allow comments in response to be posted on the same page. Not many many reviewers or critics have exposed themselves in this way.(How many of us know the difference between the two?)Of course Megan is, strictly speaking, neither: she’s a blogger.

    Equally brave are those who put their work on the stage and hold it up to public scrutiny; that takes incredible guts and is worthy of enormous respect. No one knows that more than Megan: she is deeply committed to, and is an indelible part of the local theatre landscape.

    Yes, Megan’s name is synonymous with an unashamedly frivolous enterprise called ‘Theatresports’, as someone helpfully reminded us. However anyone attending one of these performances expecting intellectual stimulation has clearly spent the past 17 years with their head buried in an unsanitary orifice. Megan’s more contemplative work has evidently been missed in the interim, which is a shame.

    In fact, Megan is a credit to the Artscape New Writing Program; her play, The Tent, is currently garnering international accolades: there’s clearly no shortage of intellectual capacity there.

    Finally, I must say that, unlike Megan, I enjoyed Mary and the Conqueror. I’m sure it helped that I had read up a little on Mary Renault beforehand, and the programme was helpful. Many of those who knew Mary and Julie have commented on the accuracy of the portrayals, which is a credit to the actors, to the Director and to the writer. And it must be said that the boys were pleasing to the eye, muffin-top over white speedo notwithstanding. What Megan’s reaction suggests though, is that the play has been crafted for a niche audience and may not be everybody’s cup of tea. And that’s OK.

    r-e-s-p-e-c-t

  20. Adrienne

    I really must say. . . the costumes the guys wear ARE NOT
    SPEEDOS! – which is a specific brief of far smaller design.
    I thought we all knew what a speedo looked like – and Adi
    baby, the muffin-tops were not. . . (withstanding) on those
    two beautifully bodied boys. Boxers or mini skirts would elicit just as much critisism, no? So? What?
    And to Gail Katz – I too would like the play to make it to Jozi.
    Thanks for the edit Megan. I feel much better now.

  21. Johan Verwey

    Hi Megan

    It was interesting to read your blog and the related responses before seeing the play. My wife and myself saw it last night (their last show at the Con Cowan before flying off to Dublin) and we thought it was delightful.

    First of all, we thought the script was clever and the accents were great, not that we’re experts on ancient Macedonian, but at least none of the actors ever dropped their accents which we thought was a massive bonus as we’ve seen the opposite, to our horror.

    It was a brilliantly performed, well done to the entire cast, and thought provoking and it was great to see a play that wasn’t ‘in-your-face’ about homosexuality. It was just there. That it was very well directed goes without say.

    Thanks for the blog, and all the opinions.

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