DIRECTOR: James Ngcobo

CAST: Elton Landrew, Quanita Adams, Charly Azade

VENUE: Golden Arrow Theatre, Baxter

UNTIL: September 29

RATING: ****

BETWEEN the sparse script and the bare set, Boesman & Lena is a depressing insight into the mind of people who have nothing.

It is a powerful dialogue between two people, with the introduction of a catalytic third person, about defective relationships and the uprooted sense of not belonging because you don’t have a home.

Written more than 40 years ago, this is a story of a coloured couple, wandering from one place to the next as their lives become meaner and smaller every time they are forced out of yet another place.

Strife and disaster may bring some people together, but for Boesman (Landrew) and Lena (Adams) it has reached the point where they stay together out of forced habit, they have nothing else but their shared dysfuction.

Stuck in the mud after watching their last home being destroyed by bulldozers, Lena insists they share their fire with a strange old man. She needs the reminder that she is human, telling Boesman to help the man because that is the human thing to do.

Plus, she needs someone else to see their interaction, for how else will she know it isn’t all in her mind, it’s not just her alcohol-addled wits which are letting her down.

Lena realises deep down inside that Boesman uses her as an emotional and physical punching bag because this is how he expresses his anger and frustration and now it is the only form of physical contact they have.

Adams has the slightly easier role since Lena hasn’t completely given up all hope of finding a place and having a life. But Landrew’s is the more difficult one – to play a character who has given up and knows this about himself.

The trio are nicely settled in their roles: Landrew directs the anger and stops himself from chewing the (non-existent) scenery which could so easily have happened, and Adams carefully skirts the line between dippy crazy and self-aware.

As Outa, Charly Azade shows Lena the tiniest glimmer of another way, delicately taking her hand and simply listening to her; though he doesn’t understand the words, he understands the need to reach out.

Though the set is literally bare, the characters do carry an inordinate amount of paraphernalia with them, so they build fires and a pondok (shelter) and pull little surprises such as wine bottles and broken cardigans out of seemingly nowhere.

While Lena’s singing works for the character – convincing the audience she somehow carries a note of hope, somewhere inside – the occasional music for a soundtrack jars because it is infrequent and out of place, seeing as they are on a bare set meant to be somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

The jarring soundscape, together with the bare set, leeches the play of atmosphere, feeding into the effect of the almost violent dialogue between the couple. They’re broken and they know it.

The true sadness of the play is that a careful excision of a few overt and specific references to apartheid and it could be a very contemporary play written about the marginalised people of SA.

It is, after all, a story about people. Dehumanised, their dysfunctional relationship merely mirrors how they are treated by society.