Artscape’s Season of New Writing for 2008 kicked off last night with Dalliances written by Pieter Jacobs. Last year the play was showcased at the Spring Drama Season. A showcase means it gets four performances and if the play is well received it gets a full run a year later, with budget for set, design etc. So this was the full run version, directed by Matthew Wild and designed by Angela Nemov.
I didn’t see last year’s showcase and all I knew was that the play had won awards at the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival at the beginning of the year. So off we went.
It is always interesting to see a play that has a perceived niche market, since that affects who gets invited to the opening night and last night the audience was peppered with pink power. As I sat down I remembered some of the publicity shots of a shirtless Clayton Boyd and I realised that there was a bit of a titillation factor here as well.
Dalliances essentially deals with the consequences of multiple sex partners in a small, interwoven (very Cape Town) community. It’s a bit like six degrees of separation, except here it’s more like three. Obviously AIDS is an issue in the South African gay world too. Here, four characters end up having some contact with each other as their lives get interwoven by the promiscuity of one of them.
As we walked into Artscape’s Arena I enjoyed what had been done to the space. The existing seats were shifted at an angle and a whole extra seating section was on the far side of the stage, confining the performing area to half the floor, the staircase, the little platform usually used for the lights and sound operators, the obsolete lighting box and the stairs used to get up into the roof. The area was also beautifully styled in blacks, greys, whites and yellows.
In fact, the transformation of the space and the clever lighting, costume and design was a highlight of the production for me. I loved the products, shopping baskets, bubbles, huge wallpaper, lift/shower, strip of lights and yellow balls. The lemon/knife thing was the only bit that went a little too far and was loaded with ‘meaning’.
I was absolutely split down the middle in terms of the cast and performances. Daneel van der Walt who played Janet literally stole the show. She is a phenomenal talent and her edgy, energetic and extraordinary performance was riveting. She was hilarious, outrageous, crazy, poignant and clever. I loved watching her and she totally held my attention in a difficult role. Keenan Arrison as Andy had less to work with script wise but I thought he managed to pull off the fragile, crazy, terrified and hurt young thing really well.
Absolutely less successful for me were Clayton Boyd as Ken and Stephen Jubber as Leo. In fact, the last time I saw them was in The Merchant of Venice and their characters were similar! How on earth is that possible? Their is no doubt that Clayton has an absolutely beautiful body; a prerequisite for the part, and he had his shirt (and pants) off most of the time, but he is not great at characterisation and sub-text, which meant that the promiscuous, hedonistic, bisexual young thing he was playing was just a pretty body. Stephen Jubber also struggled with creating a character and playing his sub-text, which resulted in a very two-dimensional, whining performance of happy, concerned, sad. I can’t help but feel that their most successful moments were the ones where they said nothing and had their pants down, which wasn’t exactly the point.
It is weird for me that the strongest part, both writing and performance wise, in a gay play about men was the woman. Interesting.
I thought the play was good. My attention was held and I was involved right to the end. I would have made different casting choices to give the story more weight and impact, but hey, let’s face it, I’m not the target audience, am I?