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Heightened text simmers slowly

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FROM LEFT: Geoffrey Hyland (director) talks to Gahlia Phillips (Bell) and Faniswa Yisa (Paper).

DIRECTOR Geoffrey Hyland places great importance on the notion of heightened text, something always apparent in the works he chooses to direct.

Whether it is Shakespeare or Lorca, for him theatre is not just about the product on stage, but also the ideas he, the writer and actors want to present and the metaphors they need to work out in their own heads.

So, the heightened text draws attention to what is said as much as left unsaid, because the words hold so much more than what is apparent.

Head of the Drama Department at UCT, Hyland only has so much time to direct, so he has to be careful about the timing and choice of productions.

This year he appears on the curated main programme of the National Arts Festival, directing a work written by British play- wright Howard Barker, one of Hyland’s favourite writers.

Though well-known in his native England, Barker’s work isn’t exactly embraced by the mainstream, which Hyland attributes to the writer’s style.

“He doesn’t give a message, he gives opinions. He presents situations, putting humans in extreme situations and follows what happens.

“The point is the experience,” said Hyland.

Barker’s work often explores violence, sexuality, the desire for power and human motivation, but he rejects the idea that the audience member should share a single response to what they see.

“He’s alternative, more edgy and confrontation… challenging. People are still trying to define him,” explained Hyland.

Barker talks and writes a lot about the art of theatre, always questioning, never simply putting out ready answers.

“He doesn’t limit an audience,” said Hyland.

In Slowly, Hyland and his creative team have created their own version of a highly advanced civilisation, putting four women together in a room reminiscent of a bombed-out temple as barbarians gather at the gate.

The women are played by Chi Mendi, Galia Phillips, Jennifer Steyn and Faniswa Yisa.

Their culture demands that they should commit ritual suicide because their city is about to be overrun by an invading force.

“But they discover that giving up life is not as easy as you think,” said Hyland.

There are two major themes being explored in Slowly, namely the role of women in advanced civilisations and war, as well as the concept of civilisation versus barbarism, and what exactly each of these ideas represents.

The title is referenced by one of the characters when she says: “We are disappearing… slowly”.

All four are on stage the whole time, and unlike the original staging (all dressed in black on a minimal set), the costumes and set are more elaborate.

Their clothing, especially, references various ancient cultural practices that are considered restrictive or binding in some way. So, expect anything and everything from corsets to hooped skirts to reference varying ideas around beauty which comes at a cost.

This also references the idea of how so-called civilisations bind their women into ideas.

“It sounds heavy, but it is beautiful,” Hyland insists.

• Slowly premieres at the Victoria Theatre in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival from July 11 to 13 then moves to Artscape Theatre from July 18 to August 3.


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