Jennifer Steyn, Mncedisi Shabangu and Andrew Buckland in The Inconvenience of Wings. Picture: Oscar O’Ryan
Without his wings, Paul is a flightless bird, head in the sand, packing for destinations he will never get to, unable to unpack his loss.

Yet with them, he remains grounded under the weight of a wife afflicted by a mental disorder, unable to soar above the dark clouds wafting through her brain, unwilling to take flight lest he lose her.

The inconvenience of those wings when Paul first meets his wife Sara at university, she charms him with a story about a man with angel’s wings who sets a woman free when he eventually manages to take to the skies. Impulsively, he signs up to be her guardian angel. 

How could he have known the curse about to befall him? Sara, giddy with boundless optimism the one moment, spitting on his very existence the next, is a manic depressive dipping into her biscuit tin of pills for any kind of relief. In her shadow troops Paul, picking up the pieces, reassuring the kids, the neighbours, desperate to find a cure.

Sara clearly has a problem with prescription pills and her addiction hampers any real chance of her getting better. But Paul too, is an addict: so consumed is he with saving her that when she eventually makes good on her promises to end it all, he is lost.

The key witness to this torturous tango is James, the only real sense of normality Paul and Sara have to hold on to. But what about James is so normal? His life seems locked in a state of perpetual limbo. He has left behind a wife, who chose ambition over tradition, to move into a white suburb and, in the process, seems to have lost a sense of his identity. He is a professor of psychiatry, but has also chosen to blanket himself in the safety of theory rather than starting his own practice. He may also very well be an alcoholic. When Paul begs him for help with Sara, he accepts, acting as the go-between, very capable of diagnosis, but unable to provide a cure. Their constant companion, James ultimately needs Paul and Sara as much as they need him.

The Inconvenience of Wings is a heart-wrenching look at the humanity behind the so-often clinical appreciation of bipolar disorder and addiction. It lays bare the suffering of not only those living with these illnesses, but of their loved ones for whom help, despite the best intentions, never quite arrives. Written and directed by the award-winning Lara Foot, it seems to push its heavyweight cast to the very brink.

Jennifer Steyn’s physicality and almost child-like innocence brings to life a Sara haunted by her dreams and the realisation that, as she chases the ultimate release, she is snuffing the life out of Paul. It’s a tour-de-force of a performance, given even more gravitas by the understatement of Buckland as Paul. 

The desperation and sorrow etched on his face as he engages in his losing battle is deeply moving. The mild-mannered Shabangu is the stake around which these polar opposites swing. He is the firm hand Andrew cannot quite bring himself to be for Sara and, in the end, is like Andrew’s doting wife.

Earlier this year, The Inconvenience of Wings won the coveted Fleur du Cap awards for best director (Foot), best actress (Steyn) and best actor (Buckland). It is a powerful, must-see production.