Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Shirley Johnston

Death of a Colonialist

While it’s really difficult remembering everything I thought about the last three things I saw at the festival, I think I must try and write bout them; after all, that’s why I went in the first place. From the comfort of my own bed, in my own home though, things do look a little different.

The first of the last three shows I saw was Death of a Colonialist. This was a Market Theatre production directed by Craig Freimond and script by Greg Latter. I had very high expectations for this show; my gorgeous sister-in-law had highly recommended it after seeing it in Jozi. In fact, I even stayed at the fest an extra day to include the possibility of seeing it.

This is a ‘straight’ play in two acts, with an interval in between. It’s about a white school teacher in Grahamstown, his wife who has cancer, and their reunion with their two grown children who come back to visit from Canada and Australia. It stars Jamie Bartlett, and Shirley Johnston, Carl Beukes and Ashleigh Harvey play his satellites.

There is no doubt that the issues facing white South Africans are thoroughly (and sometimes poignantly) churned through the wheel of this play. Crime, education, fitting in, dealing with the guilt of the past, migration, belonging, being by-passed. A passionate history of the Eastern Cape, with a (for an old white guy) passionate and obsessive leaning to Xhosa sympathies, is the crux of the star character’s being misunderstood, by his family and the school.

My reaction to the play is one of ambivalence. While there were many moments of genuinely moving stuff and powerful ‘truth’ moments too, I found watching the play challenging and problematic. Here’s why. I think I like the bulk of the script, but immediately saw the challenges that it presented in staging. I know that Jamie Bartlett is a powerhouse performer, but here he felt too big for the role, and certainly for everyone else on stage. (Can I confess to it feeling like the Jamie Bartlett Show?) Yes, his performance was intense and magnetic, but it was also in another play. His most successful moments were when he was on his own, in front of us, his class, where he could be cock o’ the roost. His character had absolutely everything; a ball grabbing habit when he was excited, a funny walk, a cough, sniffing, weird little neck jerks, a voice thing, a cutesy leg thing when he kissed his wife, weird jerky hand things, and a powerfully emotional moving belly. My sense is was that it was just too much.

The super-naturalism of the others was eclipsed and annexed by the Jamie Bartlett show. It felt a bit unfair really, like we needed to care about them less, and this can’t be true, especially since the mom had cancer. I enjoy watching Shirley Johnson. She is a subtle, quietly natural performer, who didn’t stand a chance here. Just saying. So, I’m not sure if the issue is a casting one (in truth, having seen Jamie in the role I can’t really imagine anyone else doing it) since I am unsure about what serves the play. Usually I love Craig’s choices; here I was confused. The two others felt like moaning stage furniture.

I wasn’t convinced.

Yes! Elizabeth: Almost By Chance a Woman

liz What a great way to break the drought of plays. I am a reluctant and stingy standing ovationer but I was quickly up on my feet to applaud the cast, but mainly, Robyn Scott, lead supreme of this fantastic show.

Last night at the Little Theatre was exactly how theatre should be. There was a buzz in the air. The full house of audience came early and ate pies and drank beer (what a cool idea). Then we went inside and saw a brilliant script fantastically executed.

Elizabeth: Almost By Chance a Woman is the most unwieldy title of a delicious comedy written by genius and Nobel prize for Literature winner, playwright Dario Fo. Its subject is Queen Elizabeth, who is completely off her rocker. It is this that helps make this theatrical experience so wonderful. The play’s subject matter is irreverent and completely obscure, yet the brilliant script draws you in and the journey is a theatrical delight.

The supporting cast in this production are great. My favourite was Nicholas Dallas who plays Egerton. He is hilarious. Shirley Johnston has the unbelievably difficult job of playing poor Martha and she does so very well. It is a bit like the teeniest moon orbiting the biggest planet; but that’s what it is. Scott Sparrow in a dress and playing Dame Grosslady is weird and hilarious in turns. I had no idea what he was talking about for most of the time, but even that was very, very funny. Jaco Nothnagel and James MacGregor were also delightful in their small parts.

But, let’s face it, it’s the Robyn Scott show. And she is mind blowing. I don’t know where it comes from, but every nuance, movement, sound, tic, step, gesture, pause, cry, every moment is theatrical magic. She is riveting, hilarious, moving and huge. It is no small feat to pull off a monster of a part like this, and she is totally brilliant.

Chris Weare is in his directorial element here. You can see the fun he had with this one. And Daniel Galloway’s lighting, in the difficult Little Theatre, was really, really good. I also have to mention the costumes by Penny Simpson from Artscape, which were absolutely fabulous.

So, I imagine the long and obscure title is not going to make people run off to book tickets, therefore I am taking on the role of urging, nagging, cajoling and threatening people. Guys, if you miss this one you really will miss out. This is what theatre is all about.

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