Posts Tagged ‘Rob Van Vuuren’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot think of a better way to bring in the Year of the Dragon, than with Shakespeare’s farcical quick-witted comedy at Maynardville Open Air Theatre. At the opening of their new show, The Comedy of Errors, last Saturday, we were welcomed by rows of scarlet Chinese lanterns that lit up the path, vibrant paper dragons, and an array of other colourful Chinese New Year decorations, which fitted in perfectly with their 1970’s Kung Fu Cinema styled production. They had everything from panda’s with swagger (Oscar Sanders), multi-coloured merchants with serious ninja skills, eccentric schoolmasters (Gabriel Marchand), to a giddy, bubble-blowing harajuku girl (Jenny Stead). What more could one ask for? Well, what about a tale of two pairs of identical twins, separated at birth by a tragic shipwreck, whom unwittingly find themselves in the same city years later? Oh, yes.

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, unleashes a series of uproarious misunderstandings, farcical contortions and several cases of mistaken identities, with absolute hilarious consequences! In order for director Matthew Wild to create a modern-day “Ephesus” setting in which the foreign characters can sense an atmosphere of danger, mystery and enchantment – a mercantile city, where profit and trade are high on the residents’ daily agenda, he had consider many different factors. Drawing inspiration from films such as Enter the Dragon, it was decided upon a type of Never Never Land “Chinatown” setting, composed of irrelevant Asian clichés, signs and symbols, that would create the perfect atmosphere in which the tale could unfold. The genre of the classic 1970’s Hong Kong martial arts films, according to Wild, in which the tone may very rapidly switch from romance, to slapstick, to genuine danger, with this style of dramatic language and fight sequences, may be “the source of elegant, balletic comedy” and “a treasure-trove of vividly imagined, exotic locales”.

Despite being one of the earliest (and shortest) of Shakespeare’s plays, it has retained its popularity with audiences, having been frequently adapted to suit our ever-changing modern society. A great deal of the play’s humour revolves around the beating of servants, a potentially bleak source of amusement for modern-day audiences. Many directors have had to tackle the repeated comic beatings of the bondsmen and other servants in this play, and one way of doing so was by looking back to commedia dell’arte and slapstick-type physical comedy such as that of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. That being said, the physical interaction between the Antipholus twins and their bondsmen, Dromio, were lighthearted and enjoyably comical.

The play opens with Egeon(played by Stephen Jennings), father of the Antipholus twins, and his whopper of a monologue. Even the sharpest-eared audience members would be likely to miss the vital moment of clarification about the heartbreaking separation of the young twins & their reason for them ending up with identical names, but not this audience. Oh, no. Thanks to a clever director, the aid of skilfully handled visual stimuli were used to illustrate exactly what transpired that fateful day and made it so much easier for us, the audience, to follow the story from there on in. And so the comedy of errors ensues. The locals constantly confuse the visiting twins for the native twins – even Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife Adriana and her sister Luciana are easily fooled. All the confusion results in Antipholus of Ephesus (the native twin) being arrested for debt and declared mad, while Atipholus of Syracuse (the visiting twin) takes refuge from his brother’s enraged wife in a nunnery – where the abbess turns out to be Egeon’s long lost wife and the twins’ mother.

There were some superb performances by Nicholas Pauling, who played the very confused visiting Antipholus of Syracuse, along with the well-known and loved comedian Rob van Vuuren, who played his equally bewildered servant Dromio. The native Antipholus, Andrew Laubscher and his loyal bondsman, James Cairns. The leading ladies were just as captivating, especially Sonia Esgueira, who played the part of Adriana, Antipholus’ wife, and dared the stage with 6 inch heels! The poor visiting Dromio found himself unknowingly married to a lusty lady, which he himself described as a “mountain of flesh” (hysterically played by the talented Chi Mhende). With the aid of cleverly designed twin outfits with only subtle colour differences, so we could tell the two pairs of twins apart, this performance was well thought out, colourful in every sense of the word and roll-on-the-floor-laughing funny. Every detail was carefully considered, even down to the little female DJ in the roof that just gave it that cherry-on-top *KAPOW* effect.

Maynardville truly outdid themselves once again. Four and a half stamps of approval — well worth a night out at the theatre! There are still shows available until the 18th of February. Perfect for a Valentine’s cuddle under the stars.

Two Wednesdays ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Baxter Theatre’s “Taste, Tweet & Theatre” evening to view the opening of the latest multimedia production performed by the Handspring Puppet Company, Ouroboros. For those of you going “Huh?” and with thumbs at the ready to Google this odd title, allow me to spare you the surfing time: Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating and/or swallowing its own tale. It symbolises the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal – the “circle of life” sort of thing, as Mufasa put it in The Lion King.

So, that having been said, back to the production at hand. Ouroboros, directed by Janni Younge, was, as many of the Tweeters that evening had said, absolutely “magical” to watch. I would say this is a production for the kid in all of us – filled with fantasy, it had a tangible quality that can only be described as “weird and wonderful”. It was both nakedly realistic and beautifully wistful.  

The thing that immediately caught my attention was the fact that the puppeteers were distinctly visible throughout the show, wearing cream coloured clothing whilst manipulating the nearly life-sized puppets into being. And, yet, as I became more and more enveloped in the story these silent creatures were telling, the puppeteers became less and less noticeable to me. One beautiful attribute I observed about this production was how the puppets and their puppeteers were cleverly paired, both racially as well as according to gender. Three young black women puppeteers handled only the three black female puppets, whilst three white men handled only the three white male puppets. This added a certain authenticity to how these puppets moved and interacted with each other, which, I believe, would have been lost otherwise. The actors (Jason Potgieter, Cindy Mkaza, Gabriel Marchand, Tali Cervati, Beren Belknap and Chuma Sopotela) who manipulated the puppets’ movements and whose faces expressed their characters’ emotions so vividly, created a non-verbal language everyone in the audience could relate to, without intruding on the performance.

So doing, they told a story of love and life shared between Nokobinisa, a graceful dancer, and Andre, a haunted poet, spanned over three key stages of their lives –  childhood, adulthood, and the latter years. We follow them from their innocent meeting as children to their reintroduction and sensual entanglement as adults, and on to bitter-sweet goodbyes as elderly sweethearts.There is a central and an ever continuing theme of new life birthing out of that which seems dead and lost. Yet nothing ends. Nothing truly dies. They live on in their children and grandchildren. The cycle continues. 

The audience experiences all three stages of their lives as being lived presently and, on occasion, I could not differentiate between the characters, as their lives intertwined and in the way they related to each other beyond the dimensions of time. Throughout the piece they encountered creatures of spiritual significance – a dog, an Oryx, and, on occasion, even Death itself. This created the atmosphere of foreboding and we all knew that another spectre of life loomed in the darkness. One we would all rather not think about. On so many levels the audience could relate to the human emotions and experiences of each character. I laughed with them, I shed a tear with them, I dreamed with them, I feared with them, I hoped with them, but most of all, I fought for dear life with them.

“Tonight I got to see a little girl kick death in the face.” – Rob van Vuuren (@RobVanVuuren via Twitter)

These puppets, with their delicately etched features, demands constant attention and emotional investment from the audience. I for one could feel them breathing, blushing, laughing, weeping. Even the delicate love scene between the Nokobinisa and Andre is handled with such sensitivity. Such a tangible intimacy was created by the four actors who manipulated these puppets so beautifully. Their finely crafted props, along with the clever use of multi media animation, poetic citations from the Billy Collins, original music by Neo Muyangaand, and delicate shadow puppetry, made for a production that completely encircles its audience in a world of fantasy and wonder. Three stamps of approval in my book. What a show.

“What I experienced in Ouroboros. Magical, mystical, strange, uncomfortable, often unfathomable trip. Beautiful, magnificent, moving puppets who float in and out of the complicated story like cloud people. Strange art animation that delights and confounds. Haunting music. Moments of heartbreaking theatre beauty…Exquisite lighting. Confusing. Captivating. Breathtaking. Sad.” – Theatre critic Megan Furniss (@meganshead)