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Besoek die aktiewe LitNet-platform by www.litnet.co.za

This is the LitNet archive (2006–2012)
Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Complex Constellations of Identity Configurations

Anton Krueger - 2007-07-31

I’ve been aware of Rob van Vuuren’s comic genius for a long time now, every since I first saw him perform some strange spacey mime of being stuck in an elevator on the moon at the Open Window in Pretoria maybe ten years ago. However, it’s the first time I’ve been exposed to the explosive verve and sheer brazen talent of one James Cairn. Perhaps I was under the impression that the slightly dof journalist he plays on The Most Amazing Show was what he was really like, because that’s the only place where I’ve ever seen him before, but here his feverish shifts between characters are executed with a meticulous, uncanny veracity. What an incredible performer! And what a funny-shaped head he has!

The vast catchall of “Physical Theatre” (which includes elements of clowning, mime and other circus skills) has increasingly been gaining credence on South African stages. It’s been influenced by a number of factors, including early “township style” collaborations since the days of Woza Albert (and perhaps before). More recently, a new generation of “physical” performers has been nurtured by certain departments of drama, particularly at Rhodes and UCT; and a few South Africans returning from the Jacques Lecoq School in France around the turn of the new millennium brought with them the influence of its distinctly European performance style.

Doyens of the Physical stage often insist that the “truths” they portray are beyond "text” and that their revellings in ambiguities and uncertainties reveal a greater “reality” than the sometimes confining restrictions of textual discourse, of logos. For me, however, it sometimes seems to be the case that these shows can get away with having very little to say. So one can find lovely and often very charming productions – such as the ninety minutes of juggling brought over by the French this year – which can be entirely amusing for, oh, maybe eighteen and a half minutes; and yet, one also wants something more. Physical theatre can often be delightful and exquisite and all of those good things, and yet, sometimes all this clowning and trickery and mime and whatnot can become little more than an exciting kids' adventure yarn.

The best part of all is that one can always pass off some of the sillier elements as being representations of epic or archetypal or – the all-time favourite: “universal” – themes. However, for anyone who has ever been suspicious about the fact that Miss Universe is invariably from Earth it seems that the more universal a piece is mooted as being, the more it ends up precisely presenting the idiosyncrasies of a particular performer while explicating their own specific culture. What can also happen is that as the level of cuteness rises, so the relevance dissipates; and many shows which provide lovely (and even very talented) fluff, can leave one with little to chew over.

Having said all of that, it seems to me that the remarkable Fresco Company are maturing year by year. For example, their offerings at the Festival this year (Jutro and Brother Number) both provide more solid fare than last year’s De Wet’s Dream and Electric Juju. Sure, those were fine, fun shows, and Juju should do equally well this year, but I found that I left those productions wanting something more. I wanted more than charm, more than “magic”. And Brother Number delivers.

What really sets this piece apart from the few other Frescos I’ve seen (as well as some of Rob van Vuuren’s other shows, going back to the days of Bangalore Torpedo) is that this one is tied together by a solid script which packs in a dense network of metaphoric allusions. This is the first Fresco show I’ve seen where I felt that the writing really stood up to scrutiny. It is most certainly a publishable text (and hopefully Wits or KZN might pick it up), and even though it remains accessible on a superficial level as a fantasy narrative, it is also the sort of text which might one day give ENG 253 students for something to sweat about.

The playful, performance aspects are still there, but there’s so much more to this story: about how we configure ourselves, and how we relate to the notion of our own group and personal identities. A range of South African types are displayed, brands of identities consisting completely of roles, rituals, habits and mannerisms. Amidst the miasmic thrall of these personas roaming the phantasmagoric spaces created by the gaps between the demographics shored up by the Department of Home Affairs, we find two lost brothers separated by the bureaucratic behemoth of nationalised, categorised (and so often immobilising) identifications. This is the story about the paradoxical yearning for belonging, which wrestles against our desires for freedom. Here we find both the nostalgia for roots, for family, for some reconnection with lineage, while also discovering the longing for the blue sky, for the outside air.