ANTHOLOGY: AFTER THE END. Written by Louis Viljoen, Nicholas Spagnoletti and Jon Keevy. Directed by Louis Viljoen, with Daneel van der Walt and Donna Cormack-Thomson. At Alexander Upstairs until Saturday. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews
IF your idea of an anthology is a well thumbed book of verse featuring Blake, Keats and Wordsworth prepare yourself for quite a different collection of writing. If you like your meter messy and your prose punchy this collection of three short plays will be right up your alley. The Anthology concept was introduced by the Alexander Upstairs Theatre and this is its third successful season.
Three playwrights are given a theme and two actors and one director bring them to the stage. This edition has contemplated After the End and for some that is more apocalyptic than others. Spagnoletti has penned Abreast and his scathing and witty script is a reminder of his particular skill at creating utterly believable dialogue which deals with almost unbelievable subject matter. His recent contribution to Jemma Kahn’s, We didn’t come to hell for the croissants was a bizarre cautionary tale which placed the twin sins of sports fanaticism and gluttony alongside each other. Similarly he creates dialogue which will have you shaking with mirth and wincing with recognition.
The conversations between a bereaved mother and the public relations face of a breast feeding advocacy NGO is more than just a verbal sparring match between two rivals. Their repartee is snappy and the issues raised about well funded and resourced NGO’s pitted against grass roots organisations is a small vignette of social commentary that is pithy and precise. The strength of a short script lies in the ability of the writer to capture moments which allow insight in to the characters within a minuscule amount of time. Spagnoletti does this remarkably well and Van der Walt’s monologue pertaining to the announcement of a death is a fine example of this. Van der Walt is probably most familiar for her musical roles, including that of Magenta in the Rocky Horror Show. She is an actor par excellence and her seamless navigation from one role to the next, grieving mother, hard ass politician to deranged angel is a joy to watch. She has a stage presence which is absolutely captivating and I do hope that this heralds a more sustained appearances from her on our local stages.
Keevy’s writing explores the ambitions of a political intern (Cormack-Thomson) and her highly successful mentor (Van der Walt).in The Shepard. Audiences who have watched Viljoen’s The Kingmakers will be reminded of some of the political conniving presented in that performance and the low regard with which both Keevy and Viljoen hold the political elite is evident. Viljoen’s direction here is taut and the tension between the two women veers from animosity to an almost animalist passion. Their pas de deux more of a steamy tango than a balletic adagio. Although the script is localised and quite obviously set in SA it is topical given the current discourse around Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Keevy has captured many of the arguments raised for and against the role of women in politics.
Viljoen completes the triumvirate with a heavenly vision of a slightly insane seraph. Cormack-Thomson is particular funny in this piece and her antics with a set of bellows and a harp can not be unseen. Print media protocol prevents me from expanding more on the precise nature of her antics.
You will have to watch the play to understand the additional meaning given to “plucking the strings” that Viljoen envisages. Cormack-Thomson showcases her versatility in the three roles that she occupies and her transition from an acerbic executive in the opening piece to the hot mess that she dissolves in to in the final act belies her recent graduate status. The angel (Van der Walt) despairs of the “detritus pouring forth from” her “blood red maw” and the engagement with the stoned Angela lurches from lurid to laughable in a Tourette like explosion of insults and philosophical musings. As is his wont Viljoen peppers his script with profanity and it is fast becoming a trademark of his writing to contain a plethora of four letter words and scatological references. Their overuse is tiresome at times and detracts from the brilliance of his writing skills. There are some pithy gems however and some of the insults thrown around are worth remembering. Special mention must be made of Maggie Gericke and Jamie Lee Money who multi-task at the lighting desk and stage manage. They are as adept at moving the sets with the same lightning speed as the cast are at delivering the sonic breaking lines.
The form of these plays is similar to short stories where morsels leave you wanting more, yet are satisfyingly sufficient in themselves. As Stephen King suggests “Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief, but brevity makes sweetness, doesn’t it?”. This is a sweet offering worth breaking your sugar fast for.