by Athol Fugard.
Arcola Theatre 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 3 July 2010.
Runs: 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Carole Woddis 18 June.
A play of two halves.
When apartheid was dismantled, it was thought, in a strange paradoxical way, drama might suffer. After all injustice often breeds great theatre.
Athol Fugard was one of the great South African writers who brought the realities of apartheid home to western audiences with such humane, luminary plays as Hello and Goobye or Sizwe Bansi is Dead. But what might the aftermath produce?
Fugard, now 78, has shown he has not lost his touch and can still weave magic spells out of nothing, if increasingly succumbing to personal memories. When he engages these with wider themes they are inspirational. When they’re allowed to take over, the plays become self-indulgent and sentimental.
Some of both is inherent in this wonderfully vibrant production by Cordelia Monsey. The night I saw it, coinciding with the pathetic showing by England in their World Cup match, barely a handful of us graced the Arcola’s second studio.
But Cat Simmons, its female lead, could certainly have shown the English team a thing or two about guts, passion and the x-tingle factor.
As Veronica Jonkers, a poor single mum returning to the scrubland home of her grandfather where she grew up, after failing to make it as a singer in Cape Town, Simmons delivers a performance of shimmering intelligence and beauty. A woman in terminal decline, she communicates a determination all the more ferocious to ensure a future for her young son, Mannetjie.
Written in 2008, in the first half, Fugard reflects his times with a winning combination of themes concerning Aids, hostility of the outsider (remember the riots in South Africa last year by the home population towards fleeing Zimbabweans) exile and ghosts from the past with rich characterisation.
How skilfully Fugard builds the relationship between Veronica and her reluctant, `suitor’, Alfred – played by David Judge with an electric sense of life for all his material and intellectual poverty – whilst injecting the parallel idea of seeds of education with agriculatural husbandry.
Unfortunately, the second half descends into dramatic cliché. But in between we’ve had a glimpse of Fugard’s own little miracle, blooming briefly in E8.
Veronica Jonkers: Cat Simmons.
Alfred Witbooi: David Judge.
Oupa: Nadim Sawalha.
Manndetjie: Jamel & Jaden Matthias/Panashe and Taanashe Mwatsiya.
Director: Cordelia Monsey.
Designer: Victoria Johnstone.
Lighting: Michael Nabarro.
Sound: Marcus Christensen.
Dialect Coaches: Julia Wilson-Dickson, Marina Tyndall.
Assistant director: Elayce Ismail.