Posts Tagged ‘The Punishment of Marsyas’

Spyt … Where do I even start? Well, I have to warn you, this will be my first negative review. After the incredibly entertaining God van Chaos, I was expecting to see another spellbinding show at Woordfees, in the beautiful setting of the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre in Stellenbosch.

Boy, was I disappointed …

It all started off so well: The set was simplistic with a single stainless steel trolley centre stage, a backdrop of old morgue drawers as a focal point, and three semi see-through flats on either side. With an age restriction of 16, for language, nudity and sexual references, I had prepared myself to see and hear strange and unusual things, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to unfold.

This very OTT drama grabbed the expectant audience’s attention for the first 5 minutes as some medieval clad men hacked and sawed at a dead man’s chest to expose his heart. Already the lighting was notably amateur and shaky. I also noticed that the actors were wearing mics, of which there was clearly no need. This was followed by an uncomfortably high Afrikaans and somewhat unnatural dialogue between husband and wife. This is not unusual for this style of theatre, namely the Theatre of the Absurd, but somehow, this playwright thought she could throw some Realism in there as well. Not a good idea, unless you know the rules of theatre well enough to break them.

Having said that, I had been intrigued by Braam (Stian Bam), the main character, his icy demeanour towards his wife, Mariana (Leanna Dreyer), and the strange threatening phone calls he had been receiving during their detached conversation, up until this point. Surely this would be an important plot point that would make more sense later on?

The actors juiced a few nervous laughs from the audience in the third scene, as Braam and his buddy, Frans (Waldemar Schultz), crudely described how they were going to “enjoy” the twin blonde prostitutes he had organised for them later on that evening. We then had to sit through a completely unnecessary show of sexual debauchery, as Braam flung mistress #1 (Vicky Davis) around in every intimate position imaginable, while discussing artworks he wished to invest in.

As the mysterious phone calls continue to pester Braam, he begins to experience some bizarre hallucinations that evolve around the morgue drawers between scenes. At one stage he opens one of these drawer doors to find the naked bosoms of mistress #2 (Pumeza Rashe). Then things start to get very weird, as these two partake in, what can only be described as, some odd wordless sacrificial ritual of love-making.

Braam continues on to mistress #3, Jolene (Nicole Holm), who just happens to be his pal, Frans’, wife. There he tries to coerce her into bed by telling her about his morbid fascination with the painting, The Punishment of Marsyas, by  the Italian late Renaissance artist, Titian. Instinctively I thought the author would now bring some parallel between the myth portrayed by the painting and Braam’s sinful reality. Sadly, no. It just added more confusion to the already loopy plot.

He then meets a wacky lady, called Moira Jean (Lulu Botha), who forces him to question his morals and to think about life beyond death, with the help of some funky, yet badly choreographed dancing – after which Braam gets abducted by humanoid versions of a Springbok, Hyena and Rhino … I kid you not. From what I could gather, these animals where the henchman of Frans, who, in the mean time, had discovered Braam’s deceit and the infidelity of his wife, Jolene. Funny enough, instead of inflicting some serious bodily harm or even killing Braam, the two friends end up reminiscing over a poorly written voice over of everything “awesome”. Sound effects and faulty mics made this scene even harder to endure.

From here on in the show just seems to throw in random plot points, such as the mysterious caller, whom I thought would tie up all those loose ends  leading up to this, turns out to be nothing more than a deranged mental patient without any direct link to Braam or anything that had happened in the previous scenes.

To round it all up, if you wish to call it that, Braam gets killed and is inevitably rowed off to Hades by what looked like the Grimm Reaper or possibly Charon. He is the ferryman who carries the souls of the deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the world of the dead – the only other reference to any form of mythology.

As the final misplaced monologue was performed by Braam, I looked over to the stunned audience, where I saw some heads shaking, and others sat with their heads in their hands, clearly disappointment with the closing scene. Suddenly all the madness we had to sit trough had no end, no real intelligent conclusion. It all seemed so surreal, like we were watching a real life scene from Hans Christian Andersen’s Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new (invisible) clothes. It was like no one dared to question the quality or authenticity of this piece and I felt like I imagine many others did, that one child that cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

All in all, Ingrid Winterbach may be a superb visual artist and award-winning novelist, but as far as writing dramatic text (of which this was her first), all I can say is, don’t quit your day job just yet dear.

I give it only a half a stamp of approval, solely for the performance of Leanna Dreyer, who played Braam’s wife, and for the simple, yet effective set design.

One word can sum up this theatrical experience: Spyt.

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