Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Mark Hoeben

Voice

Once again I have returned from a Liz Mills voice class inspired, delighted and excited. I was reminded today of how influenced I have been by the work we have done; I spent the Grahamstown festival listening to many of the actors’ voices and seeing how consciously they were working with them.

Many actors are stuck in their voices. Many actors have bad vocal habits, over stress, or have developed a very small range of expression. I saw an actress who, because of her huge physical size, had chosen a teeny voice to compensate. I heard actors who were not being kind to their voices with harsh stresses and sore throats. I heard actors whose voices were not in their bodies. And I heard actors who were getting their voices, their unique, individual sounds to really work for them.

I was lucky to see the results of Liz’s work so acutely in Mark Hoeben’s performance in Sadako. Mark, who was at drama school with me, has also been attending these awesome classes, and the work has so paid off. Because he is a puppeteer in Sadako all his performance is through his voice. And what he produces is an almost unrecognisable pitch, vocal quality and range, giving him a sincerity, compassion and connectedness without being an inch sentimental. It’s as if he has taken all the work, all the notes, all the observations and put them directly into practice right there.

So bravo to Mark and bravo to Liz.

Very Sad Sadako

Jaqueline Dommisse snuck me in to the first performance of her show Sadako, since I could not get a media ticket and it was sold out! Sadako was written by Peter Hayes, directed by Jaqueline with a cast of amazing puppeteer/actors and designed by Ilke Louw.

I saw the original Sadako many moons ago at The Baxter Studio, and I was surprized at how much of it I remembered. It is the heart wrenching tale of Sadako, who eight or so years after the atom bombing of Hiroshima, gets ‘bomb sickness’, leukemia. Eina.

This production is newer, bigger, better and sadder. All the puppeteers are amazing; but special mention must be made of Roshina Ratnam (Sadako) and Mark Hoeben (who plays her dad and the doctor). They are transportingly wonderful, believable and Mark in particular is effortlessly sincere.

So, here’s what happened to me during Sadako. I could not manage the story of the sick little girl at all. I segued into imagining Natalie, in Boston, who is still undergoing treatment for her cancer, and I was a wreck, a total, wet, sniveling mess. I could hardly breathe. Which makes it hard to separate. But it is amazing when a piece of puppet theatre can take you there.

I do have some thoughts on the production though. It is very, very beautiful and special, but it is long, and because of the slightly old fashioned style, it is slow. This makes it hard for children (there were two wrigglies next to me and they were going nuts). The story has its own inevitable relentlessness and I think there need to be one or two fewer of the intensely poignant moments; there are one too many to be in tears about!

Some of my favourite things were the relationship between Sadako and her delightful best friend, their most cute school uniforms, the sick little boy in his teeny wheel chair, the thousand paper cranes, Sadako’s mom, and the teeny, teeny baby puppet version of the kid in the family.

Sad Sadako is precious, beautiful, and an emotional weep fest. Be prepared.

 

Romping Taming of The Shrew

Last night was my annual trip to the suburban bush, for Shakespeare among the trees. Maynardville is a treasured institution of Cape Town, and, for some, I imagine it’s their only theatrical trip of the year. That’s why it’s important for me that the experience is a good one. It’s Shakespeare, and a bad production can put someone off for good.

I met friends before the show and we picnicked on the lawn. I made sushi and picnic salad pockets (but that’s a discussion for another blog) and we listened to the actors warming up, and then we all filed in to take our seats under the stars. For the last almost ten years I have managed to make sure I was invited to opening night of the yearly Maynardville, but this year there was a double glitch so last night I sat down with Cape Town’s general public. It was a treat. (One of the things I have been really good about is not reading what anyone else thought about the production so I could have a very open mind.) Before the lights went down a young woman behind me told the Wikipedia summary of the story to her quite inebriated and very jolly boyfriend. It was a wonderful summary, for in case the story was difficult to follow, but she had nothing to worry about.

Now, I need to say a few things about the actual play. I can totally take or leave the Taming of the Shrew. No, actually, I would rather just leave it. It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. I have never before seen a successful production of it (I remember a particularly laborious one at Artscape many, many years ago). I think it’s because often the production gets seriously bogged down with the terrible responsibility of trying to manage the sexism and misogyny inherent in the story. Well, the huge success of this production is that it doesn’t take this on! There is a “who cares?” attitude about it that allows it to be silly, comedic and clever without a smidgeon of high horse or excuses. What follows is a story that is clear if not ridiculous, performances that are delicious if not serious, and spectacle that can be enjoyed without any analysis.

Director Roy Sargeant has done a really good job, particularly in these areas: He has cut the script brilliantly. The story skips along and makes total sense, and he has managed to keep all the important bits in. He has taken a concept and style and setting that works really well with the text and has run with it. This makes the production brave and cheeky (although the Seffefrican beginning and end is unnecessary and a bit clumsy) and, from an audience point of view, delightful and accessible. He has not for one moment been bogged down with the issues of the story. It is as if he had a ‘whatever’ attitude. And it works.

The other thing that Roy did brilliantly is the casting. This is a delicious cast. Anthea Thompson and Grant Swanby, the leads, are fabulous. Anthea is brilliant, with her ability to send up, be ironic, really speak the language and give it shtick. She was my nine year old friend’s favourite. And what a relief to see a more mature Kate, giving the story more credbility. Grant is delicious, relaxed, flowing and gorgeous to watch and listen to. Then there is the next tier of characters and actors. I am going to list my favourites, Mark Hoeben is brilliant. Brilliant. I loved every moment of him on stage. Francis Chouler is really, really good. He totally got the character right from the start. Darron Araujo is amazing. He is hilarious and delightful. Adrian Galley is wonderful; easy, warm, funny and great. Nobody was bad. And John Caviggia as the widow was hilarious and mad. Even the teeny, non-speaking parts were well performed, and special mention must be made of the lion puppeteers who were outstanding.

The great thing of having a small(ish) cast is that the production didn’t suffer from the big parts being played by actors who are good at Shakespeare and the smaller ones not managing. With this cast I heard and understood every single word. I can’t tell you how important this is for me.

Dicky Longhurst’s designs are delicious. The Italian circus styling, retro combined with modern cheeky Rome, is sumptuous and gorgeous, and fun to look at. That lion puppet was magnificent. (My only quibble was Richard Lothian’s blue one piece which was his costume from A Circus Side Show. At least make one change to it. It’s mine!). Faheem Bardien’s lighting is awesome. His tent of fairy lights is especially delightful and magical. And the shlocky Italian retro pop pre-show and interval music is my best!

This production offers a non-snobby, totally accessible, fun, beautiful to look at, exciting Shakespeare. If Shakespeare makes you nervous, this is the one to see.

Maynardville and me, and Antony and Cleopaaatra

Last night was the pilgrimage to Maynardville for the opening night of the yearly outdoor Shakespeare. This year it is Antony and Cleopatra. After the delightful and mostly interrupted picnic on the lawns; there was a lot of jumping up and kissing of opening night people, we filed into the venue, piled cushions on seats and realised that we (my darling friend and Shakespeare lover was my date because Big Friendly has sworn off Shakespeare and Maynardville) had arguably the worst seats in the whole space. We were in the fourth row, right at the end on the right. I could see nothing over the heads of everyone in front of us, I could see nothing of anything at the back, behind the set, I could see nothing on stage right at all. There were two spots where I could see well; directly in front of me and on the beautiful raised circle of the set.

When the final ‘take your seats’ bell rang and the ‘switch off phones’ announcement was made we realized how close we were to the speaker! Well, at least we were going to be able to hear everything.

Before last night I had lots of mixed feelings about A and C. I was very excited that Marthinus Basson was making a return to Maynardville, since he is one of my favourite directors, but I had very clear memories of Marthinus’s last A and C, which was most beautiful but very strange, with the not entirely successful Aletta Bezuidenhout and Andrew Buckland as the leads. It also had a gold Mark Hoeben as soothsayer, with gold live snakes. I was nervous that this year’s leads seemed very, very young, and I was in my normal state about Shakespeare’s ‘historicals’, since I never properly understand what’s going on. In fact, I know A and C pretty well, having seen it live and in movies many times, but I still have no actual clue what the political story is.

Mixed feelings are what I left with afterwards too. There was a lot about this production that I liked, there was a lot that I didn’t, but mostly, although I enjoyed watching the spectacle (what I could see of it) I remained unmoved emotionally. The really good things were the design and costumes, which, of course, Marthinus is magnificent at. Tinarie van Wyk Loots as Cleopatra and Andre Weideman (who I just completely adore) were damn fine and very good as A and C, and even got away with being so young, Andrew Laubscher was successful and irritatingly good as the young Octavius, and nobody was truly hideous, although I definitely had my favourites. I thought Mark Hoeben (in a completely different part this time) and Eben Genis were really very, very good. I liked the original music, with the different sounds for Egypt and the war and Rome. I loved the costumes, especially the suits of Rome.

There is no doubt that I would have been more engaged with the production if I had been able to see more. But here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s because of the limitations of Maynardville as a venue, but I found everybody’s performance very one levelled. Antony was big and shouty, Cleopatra was either woes or happy, with a lot of head holding, Octavius was whiny and plotting. And mostly, the speaking of Shakespeare was not completely fantastic. There were so many times when I had no idea what anyone was actually talking about. Lionel Newton was an exception, and his ‘the barge she sat on’ speech was beautiful. The bottom line is that as an audience member you have to care for ole Cleopatra (at least) because if you don’t her death is endless. Which is a little bit how I felt about the production; stylish, interesting, but, as with most Shakespeare, endless.

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