I mean, it’s not quite Lord of the Flies. The presence of Alina (Lesley Ewen), the only steady hand in African Gothic (both psychologically and physically), makes sure things never quite reach the depths of utter and complete anarchy. But there is no escaping that siblings Sussie (Janna Fox) and Frikkie (Oliver Gomm) have been left to their own devices, with disastrous consequences.
And this play is certainly ‘gothic’, with heightened emotions created by suspense and horror, followed by death. This is, I think, a good play to write about from an academic perspective – there’s a lot packed into this production, and much discussion to be had for those who do choose to see it, if the conversations in the bar at the interval and after the show were anything to go by.
It’s almost relentlessly dark, and the arrival of Grové (Adam Ewan) does little to alleviate the gloom, probably because he himself is rather overwhelmed by the situation this dilapidated South African farmhouse and its inhabitants present. I note with interest that the playwright, Reza de Wet, stipulated that the characters are not English-speaking South Africans but Afrikaners. The convention is that everyone is speaking Afrikaans, so there is no need to put on an accent. I won’t spoil things by saying either way whether any attempt is made at sounding South African…
I couldn’t help but think of Nora Helmer in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as Sussie prances about gleefully, willing her brother to join in with her “games” – and while I agreed with Grové insofar as the siblings are “mad”, it’s also true that normality would make for quite a boring play, especially one entirely set in just one room. Fox does so well at portraying her character’s late mother, or at least a puritanical caricature of her – it’s a sight to behold, save for one scene, a very long and detailed role play that eventually outstays its welcome.
There’s a later scene where Grové was trying to get some sleep, and in that process, I very nearly entered the Land of Nod myself. This should, unusually and paradoxically, be seen in a positive light. Every so often I find myself watching a show that is so successful in creating a certain atmosphere I inadvertently fall victim to it.
Fellow members in the audience praised the sound effects – though I personally found some more effective than others, and the amplified sound of footsteps a tad too artificial for me to take seriously. Surely it can be assumed that someone is walking away if they have left the room? But, to quote Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, “Africa is nothing like The Lion King!” It’s more disturbing than that, or at least this play’s rather provocative portrayal of it is. Further, there may or may not have been a political statement being made about the previous apartheid regime in South Africa and its absurdity. (If so, good!) To me, however, this play came across more like a Stephen King novel on stage.
A striking and chaotic play, African Gothic is quite a hard slog – but that isn’t a bad thing – it’s simply to do with the serious issues it raises. A powerful demonstration of how paralysing an uncertain future has the potential to be, and a stark reminder to embrace the future, however frightening it may be. A difficult but satisfying and intense experience, and one with plenty of food for thought.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Two Sheds Theatre presents African Gothic
By Reza de Wet
“Still water, deep ground, and underneath the Devil is turning around”
Afrikaner children’s rhyme
Frikkie and Sussie were born into a South African Eden, an idyllic farm with loving and responsible parents, a black nanny as their second mother, and a benevolent God in Heaven to keep them all safe and sound.
But that was decades ago.
Now their parents are long gone, the farm a desolate ruin, and God has clearly forgotten them.
Written during the Apartheid era, Reza de Wet’s astonishing play (originally “Diepe Grond” – Deep Ground) held up a mirror to the dark heart of Afrikaner society, forcing it to take a long and uncomfortable look at itself and the myths that sustained it.
African Gothic By Reza de Wet Park Theatre Production Photographs
Sussie – Janna Fox
Frikkie – Oliver Gomm
Alina – Lesley
Ewen Grové – Adam Ewan
Playwright – Reza de Wet, Producer and Co-director – Roger Mortimer, Co-director – Deborah Edgington, Set and Costume Designer – Nancy Surman, Lighting Designer – Jack Weirm, Sound Designer – Erin Witton.
Plays until: 23 Jan 2016
Tuesday – Saturday Evenings 19.45
Thu & Sat Matinees 15.15
Running Time 1 hour 35 mins [inc. 15 min. interval]