Last night was the opening night of the second play in Artscape’s New Writing Programme; Wrestlers written and directed by Milton Schorr. And obviously, I’m writing this because I went (although more than one person jokingly asked if I wasn’t a persona-non-grata).
I’m sitting here with many thoughts racing through my mind, mainly whether I should be writing about this at all. To be honest, what’s definitely given me the confidence to sit down and do it is the support that I’ve been shown by many, many individuals involved in the theatre, way exceeding those who left comments here on meganshead. I also remain convinced that even if I am negative about a show my whole point is to give a show publicity, and create awareness about theatre in Cape Town.
I am going to start by repeating myself a bit. Artscape and Roy Sargeant must be celebrated and supported because of this amazing, pro-active, successful campaign that is the New Writing Programme. It gives writers a real chance to get their work out there (including me! I have benefited enormously from it). Where else can you see a whole season of brand new South African plays? Brilliant.
Now to Wrestlers. Milton Schorr has written a weighty, contemporary South African drama about a wheelchair bound man, his wife, drug addict son, imaginary friend and their addictions and dysfunctional relationships. It’s pretty grim stuff. It’s also pretty universal stuff, dealing with the staggeringly devastating effects of drug addiction and alcohol abuse and dependency. The thing that it isn’t is fun.
What is great about this production are the performances. John (or Pa) is captured extremely convincingly and powerfully by Deon Lotz. Even though he is mostly wheelchair bound his performance is enormous, layered and detailed, creating a complicated and human character. He was mindblowingly good. Jason Potgieter, who plays David his son, is definitely a young, up and coming star of the stage. I really enjoy watching him and every time I see him he grows into a stronger, more focused actor. Travis Snyders plays Buddy, the imaginary friend, superbly. It’s a really difficult role; the character is very young, innocent and, because he is a figment of the imagination, completely two dimensional, yet Travis gives him a heart and lightness that is very moving. Deidre Wolhuter has the difficult task of bringing Lily to life. It’s a bitch of a role and she manages really well. I just found her accent a bit inconsistent.
The problems with this play were ones that I am about to face myself. It’s a tough one, but I think that Milton would have done his text more justice if he had given it to somebody else to direct. He was obviously so close to the material and to the details of the performances that the overall rhythm of the piece was lost, making it feel long and relentless. Now (before I get a letter in my Outlook Express) I must make it clear that I thought aspects of Milton’s direction were excellent. His attention to detail and to the ‘needs’ of his characters were amazing. It’s just that the play struggled to find pace and flow.
A thing that bugged me a bit (aside from the technical horror of the ‘not able to ring’ phone! I know that piece-of-shit-phone from past productions) was the timing of stuff. Because the performances and style were realistic it bugged me that people came and went so quickly without a sense that time had passed.
Wrestlers is a perfect example of what needs to be showcased at the Artscape New Writing Programme. It’s a brand new South African text that needs to be worked on, spoken about, explored, debated. It’s a great place for this text to start its life. I am deeply worried about whether there is an audience for this kind of work though. Go on. Go and see it. Talk about it. Prove my theory wrong that SA audiences can only handle bloody Beauty and the Beast.
*above pic taken by Alfred Rietmann during the final dress rehearsal.