Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Beren Belknap

Madame Touxflouwe

Said Too (or two) flower. It is a play, at Artscape’s Arena (still no ice at the bar), created and directed by Beren Belknap (who created and directed Out of Order). Madame Touxflouwe had its premier at Out The Box last year but last night was the first time I saw it.

This play has plenty of ingredients. It has a cast of strong and talented performers; James MacGregor, Johan Vermaak, Alex Halligey and Brendan Murray. It has excellent multimedia visuals and tricks. It has horror as a theme and one hellova lot of story. There is very delicious and lovely music. Put all these into a theatre blender and mix, and there should be a good slice of play on the table but there isn’t.

The idea is that there is a haunted house in which the same old ghoulish servants prepare a meal for the head haunt, Madame Touxflouwe, every night. She has them hooked into her story because she has been feeding on their memories (or something) and now there is the new guy who they want to make sure doesn’t leave so she can feed on his memories instead. There is so much story though, and so much exposition, it kinda gets in the way of the plot.

I kept on struggling to stay engaged, right from the very beginning. When we sat down James, as the terribly nervous  cleaner, was cleaning, and setting the table. And that’s how the show starts when the lights go down and come back on again. This sets the tone for an evening of endless repetition. I guess it has to do with the fact that everyone is dead, so they do the same thing every night. Only it’s quite hard for an audience to watch the same thing over and over again.

It’s the same thing with the characters; Henry (Johan) shouts and victimises, Vladimir (Brendan) moves between thug and simpering creep, and Tilly (Alex) is a silent, haunted waif. This is a great place to start but these characters don’t go anywhere. They don’t change in any way, and they don’t affect each other to change. It’s very hard to care about them. Then there is the dialogue, which is also drearily repetitive, with characters saying the exact same things over and over again. A bit like me, here.

I must confess, I started squirming about twenty minutes in. Which was not good because the show was an hour and a half long.

Out of Order – we are.

As part of the London theatre carrot that might be in a place that it shouldn’t be right now I want to see as much local, new, fresh and exciting theatre as I can. With that in mind I popped off to The Intimate last night to see The Space Behind the Couch’s Out of Order. This is a two-hander written and directed by Beren Belknap (and performed by him, and teched by him) and performed by James MacGregor and Gabriel Marchand.

What happened to me last night was directly influenced by the week of pure theatre magic I have experienced in London. What happened to me broke my heart.

Beren, this is not a review of your work. This is a heartfelt response to the horrible way we are forced to make theatre in this country. And to be honest, I don’t even know where to start. When I was in London everyone referred to me as a playwright. This is a title I have never allowed myself to have, even though I have actually written quite a few plays. We all call ourselves theatre makers here. That’s because we always have to do everything. We are not really allowed to specialise, to be one thing. We can’t. Who will direct the plays if we just write them? What will we direct if we are just directors? Why does a brilliant performer like Nicola Hanekom have to write, direct and perform the things she makes? In London nobody has heard the term theatre maker.

Last night I got so angry Beren. I got angry that you have to do everything. I got depressed that you had to be a theatre maker instead of a writer, or a director, or a performer. I got sad when I thought about a process you needed and did not have the luxury of accessing. Imagine if you had had somebody older and experienced to be your mentor. Imagine if you had had the time to develop your script. Imagine if you and your actors had been able to play around for a couple of months, find things, throw things out, explore, develop the work. Imagine what could have happened then.

Things happen in such a rush here, and we are in such a hurry to get things in product form, in front of a tiny audience for such short little runs. We have no time. We have no money. We have no support. We piss on our own batteries here, because there’s nowhere else to piss.

Out of Order is such a brilliant title. We are Out of Order. Our theatre is Out of Order.

So, I want to congratulate you Beren for making theatre under these conditions. You shouldn’t have to. It shouldn’t be this hard, and this thankless.

Here’s what I thought about the piece. In my opinion Out of Order is a brilliant idea, with brilliant things in it and two brilliant performers, but it is not ready. It is not a product yet. It looks like it is, because there are the fab technicals and animations and set, but it isn’t. And for me, what was a potentially coherent, hilarious and outrageous piece of historic fantasy, Goon show style, was marred by one tiny mistake that permeated the piece. This was the dumb Afrikaner. The dumb Afrikaner is a bit of a racist idea, and it needs better treatment, either from a characterisation point of view, or from a language point of view, or from an ideological point of view. I was uncomfortable that the Afrikaans character was just a dumb Afrikaner (whose actual Afrikaans was not good), and that the kommandant spoke to his men in dumb Afrikaans accented English. The English character had so much to him; he was mad, and a coward, and a traitor, and filthy mouthed. He was a character. And he spoke in his mother tongue.

There is so much that is brilliant about the notion of this piece. At a time when the Boer war offerings of Deon Opperman laud Afrikanerdom and sow division, there is huge space for a different look, a fantastical reinterpretation of it all, and one that has the hope of the message of Out of Order. What will help make the message clear is if the Afrikaans character is not simply the dumb Afrikaner, but more. Someone we care about. Someone who deserves more than an accent and silly mispronunciations.

Beren, I think you are amazing, and brave and creative and talented. I think that Out of Order deserves time, and thinking about, and a bit of process. I keep thinking about War Horse, and how its creators spent 18 months developing it. I think about your performers, who would shine so much more brightly, and confidently, with more discovery time; more rehearsal time. And I imagine you, the writer, or director, with only one job at a time, being able to pour everything into that specialist thing. I wish that for you. And for all of us damn theatre makers.

Understanding Ouroboros

Without a doubt I should have read the program before the show, but I was too busy at the #BaxterTTT (Baxter taste and tweet, for those of you who have no idea what I am on about) where I was tasting (more like chugging actually) wine, and tweeting (mainly obscure stuff to @uglibob, @_taramay, @TarrynSaunders, @AlisonFoat and @RobVanVuuren) and taking pictures of my pink boots and posting them on twitter. I should have read the program before!

If I had read the program before, I would have known that all the puppets (except for the obviously not, like the death ones, and the party ones for eg.) represented two people. If I had read the damn program before, and not after, only this morning, I would have known exactly what Ouroboros was about (including the meaning of the title, which I also guessed at), instead of having to make up my own version about what was going on. So, I should have, but I didn’t. And that’s ok.

What I experienced in Ouroboros. Magical, mystical, strange, uncomfortable, often unfathomable trip. Beautiful, magnificent, moving puppets who float in and out of the complicated story like cloud people. Strange art animation that delights and confounds. Haunting music. Moments of heartbreaking theatre beauty. Moments of hard to make sense of preciousness. Exquisite lighting. Confusing. Captivating. Breathtaking. Sad.

A whole paragraph devoted to the puppeteers. Cindy Mkaza, Jason Potgieter, Beren Belknap, Tali Cervati, Gabriel Marchand, Chuma Sopotela. Most extraordinary. Dressed in light clothes they were the opposite of disappearing puppeteers. Especially when they were together they were like a crowd of living ghost people. Sympathetic, egoless, loving, perfect puppeteers. I was in love with them. And they never spoke a word.

Director and conceptualizer and visionary Janni Younge has made a brave (and terrifying) choice. This is a deeply original show. It’s not a Neil Diamond Tribute. In a city where people go and see theatre as a matter of course, as a way of living and reflecting and being this Ouroboros would be full every night with people debating about it, and talking about it, and differing, and getting excited. I am terrified that Cape Town is not that city. My own experience is that we have more of a… Neil Diamond Tribute type audience. So I am going to beg you to see this show. I am not going to say that you will love it, but I am going to say you will have feelings about it, and some of those feelings will have to do with love. And life. And what it’s all about. Challenge yourself.

PS. The child and baby puppets are so beautiful they made me shiver and gasp with delight.

Inside Interiors

I felt very special, I must say. I was invited to a special preview performance of Amy Jephta’s new play Interiors at The Intimate Theatre last night. This kind of theatre is what I want to write about. It is a tiny, independent, original little piece, that is obviously only at the beginning stage of being. It also only has six performances, Tuesday to Sunday this week, so people of Slaap Stad, if you want to check it out you better get your act together.

The blurb about Interiors goes “It all starts when He gives Her a table for their first wedding anniversary.” And that is really what this play is all about. That is where it starts, and that is where it ends, with a lot of relationship stuff in between. Amy has written a delicious little script. It’s cute, wacky and it has an original take on a well worn theme; the path from boy meets girl to ‘WTF is he/she on about?’ It has a kind of Juno quality about it (especially with the choice of music) and I have no doubt it is the kind of play that will have huge appeal for a young, fresh theatre audience. This is good. Very good.

Amy also directs Nadia Caldeira and Bren Belknap, who are the Woman and Man respectively. They are both recent graduates of UCT’s drama department, and here lies my first problem. Neither of them have shaken off drama school yet. Nadia is by far more successful; it’s just in those little moments of tippie toeing between scenes, or ‘physical theatre’ acting that it comes through. On the whole I found her mostly engaging, although I wished that she had made slightly stronger character choices, especially when she was standing still with her hands held girlishly in front of her. Beren, for me, didn’t manage Man very well. His performance isn’t real yet. He falls into big, meaningless facial gestures and drama school (and sometimes even American?) pronunciation too often, and he didn’t really connect to the Man, or Woman genuinely enough. I know this sounds like harsh stuff; I just think that if you are going to try and pull off a two hander then you need two very, very strong performers, since they are it really. That is who you watch and who you have to put the story across.

Amy’s direction has moments of genius inspiration, but there are funny little bumps too, which make it inconsistent. Still, it is a treat to watch and listen to a fresh new voice in theatre. I do believe that this little piece has tons of potential and will grow and grow the more it is put on.

Yawazzi are responsible for the multimedia (which I completely loved) and lights are by Jon Keevy (and they are also really cool; being The Intimate an’ all). One tiny thing though, stage management and designers; I think I recognised that table. It was used in my favourite play of 2009, …miskien? wasn’t it?

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