Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Womb Tide – Best stage pomp ever

On the way home in the car, and the journey from The Baxter to Woodstock is very short I admit, I struggled but couldn’t explain to Big Friendly how I felt about FTH:K‘s new production Womb Tide, which opened at the studio last night.

I was very excited for this show. I am a believer in FTH:K. I love what they do, what they stand for, their passion, commitment, creativity and brilliant work ethic. I love the amazing Womb Tide mobile hanging in The Baxter foyer. I really, really wanted to like this production.

And for the first fifteen minutes I was absolutely charmed. Liezl de Kok is so cute, engaging, magnetic and delicious (not to mention entirely beautiful) and Daniel Buckland is delicious and equally engaging. I loved being introduced to the characters and set and relationship between them. This culminated in the best SOS (sex on set) moment I have ever seen on stage. That is how it must be done. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Unfortunately, that was the, excuse the pun, climax of the play for me, and from then on it became quite hard going. Here’s what I think happens. Everything feels the same. Because of the minimal use of words, and almost clowning technique of physicalisation it all comes out on the same emotional level. When things are cool and dandy (love, sex, marriage) there is enough energy and action to keep things sparking and alive. The minute the thing turns serious it starts feeling long and uncomfortable and repetitive.

I know that Ugli Bob (the amazing director Rob Murray) is strongly moving in the direction of creating a physical theatre vocabulary. The danger here is that the piece, the subject matter and storyline, seem to need a shift of treatment when things change emotionally. The actions are just not enough, and the few words are just moments of deep frustration for the characters, and I suspect for some of us in the audience too. Which also brings me to my next point. I definitely got the few words, or even part words, in their seventies flavoured Seff Effrican accents, but I didn’t really understand why some stuff was in gibberish.

Unfortunately, for me, there was a disconnect between the set-up and the story.I felt like I could see what was happening; I understood it all fine, but I was somehow disengaged. While the piece has so many things that work in its favour; a great cast, brilliant set, gorgeous and committed puppeteers, lovely costumes and props, clear intention and style, it didn’t reach the finishing line for me. I felt like I wanted to be crying at the end, but instead I was pissed off with the person sitting next to me who had been fiddling with her very bright phone for twenty minutes.

I also felt that the sound was a combination of FTH:K’s last two productions, Pictures of You and Quack! There was another problem, and that was the space. I missed all the stuff that happened on the floor, when the actors and puppet and puppeteers were not standing up. In fact I am pretty sure that I missed quite important stuff in the story, that I just never saw happen. This is a problem with the studio, but it was horrible feeling like there was stuff going on that we couldn’t see at all.

Look, it could just be me. In fact, I’m half hoping that it is, and that others will find this work brilliant. Please leave comments. Let’s have a debate.

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2 Comments

  1. Simon Cooper

    I was also there last night – this was the second time I had seen the play – the first time at Grahamstown 2010 when I saw, what I think was, the first performance of the play after the tryout in Cape Town. I liked it then and I liked even more now. I agree that the geography of the Studio space is an enemy here and not a friend – I was sitting at the back and none of us could really see what was happening stage right on the floor [and quite a bit goes on there one way and another], But that apart I enjoyed every last minute of it and want to see it again. I thought that the transition from “that first fine flurry of lust and love” to the state of marriage to sadness to happiness back to sadness and finally to joy were very well portrayed by the mainly silent actors.
    In looking at an FTHK production and particularly at the sounds and sound effects they use [short of talking], one has to bear in mind the context in which their work is doen – that of developing the participation of the deaf in theatre. Their clever “listen with your eyes” tagline says it all”in terms of context. “Pictures”and “Quack”both relied on masks and body language only to convey the stories – here it is a much fuller soundscape [which I enjoyed] but noetheless the work is making us, to an extent, look at theatre throught the eyes of someone who cannot hear, and possibly battles with clear speech as weel as a result.
    So overall myview is that the play is damn good and should be seen.
    As always the fab Megan sparks debate – go girl, go !!!

  2. ugli bob

    Thanks for your comments Simon, and also all your thoughts and insights Megan and I agree – I love the debate and am curious to see what others say/feel about the things you both raise.

    The space isn’t too kind on us and it’s something we’re trying to address – the great thing about having a mentor like Lara is she saw the show and immediately set up a session to see where we can fix some of the sightline issues. It was a necessary compromise or sacrifice we had to make – because the ceiling’s so low and the space quite small, we had to take out the usual rostra of the Studio just to get our swing in and get Daniel to be able to ride his bike around. And in doing so we gave ourselves the sightline problem that only became very apparent once we had a full teeming house in…and we’re addressing those things.

    I obviously can’t comment on the quality of the show, being as biased as I am, but I can talk to the approach we’re taking and how we’re trying to work towards a more robust form to hold the story. Taking away the words leaves us with very tiny and detailed nuances and shifts in tension/attitude to tell the story and varying emotions…and right now, we’re still probably too fragile. IE – it’s such a delicate tightrope: just this side and it’s dead on and sizzles with tension and the audience feels the frisson from stage to auditorium, but a tiny step that side and it doesn’t quite hold together and one starts noticing, as I think you picked up, how something is done, or watching the mechanics and not feeling the emotional throughline hat we’re after. So that too is an ongoing evolution in our journey towards this form. And personally, i can’t remember ever seeing an opening night that was our best performance – there are just too many nerves, or too much wanting to get it right or please colleagues/media that makes for an off-kilter show. This isn’t a justification, just an observation. And it seeps out into the performance and affects it many ways, not least of all the performers coming up with more gibberish than is meant to be in there as they try too hard or panic slightly.

    So hopefully now that that’s over and done with we can all relax a bit more and enjoy the performance and fix the few areas that need fixing and hopefully keep on growing.

    Thank you guys so much for all the support – you know we’ll always wear it!

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