The text on the poster advertising Dead Yellow Sands on the walls of the Market Theatre is cryptic and leaves me trying to answer the question: what’s this show about?
Actor Graham Weir, a man with a formidable beard, meets me just outside the Barney Simon Theatre in the Market.
He has a warmth about him, something that makes you want to sit down and tell him your life’s stories.
That is what he later tells me Dead Yellow Sands, is about - the stories of people he has observed and was close to in some instances.
For 60 minutes on stage, Weir remains in his chair while he slips into each of the characters. There are about six of them.
“You’ve got characters, various characters, who I portray,” he tells me. “That came out of a scene in Macbeth where he sees the witches and they disappear. And he says to Banquo: ‘What are those?’ and Banquo responds: ‘The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, And these are of them. Whither are they vanished?’ So the idea with the characters is that you’d see one, and then they’d be gone like they were never there.
“These characters are people I knew, people who were close to me or people I saw at a distance.
“One of them is Chris Ntini, who I watched from my flat in Long Street (Cape Town) at the time, descend into madness.
“I created them, I portray them, and I don’t ever move from my chair,” Weir says.
He explains that this is part of an exercise he gave himself. It came from the advice of a friend. He was told: “The essential thing about theatre is the actor and lights”.
And it is from this conversation that the minimalist setup of the production came.
For Weir this technique not only challenges him as a thespian, but forces the audience to engage differently with the play.
“So I thought how can I make the most minimal experience a maximum experience? And I said to Bo (Petersen, the director): ‘Here are these stories I wrote in 2015. I don’t even know if they are a theatre production’.
“I invited six friends or so and we had a reading session of these stories. There was a light that was set up for people to read and there was a consensus among them that the experience was nice.
“So I thought: how stationary can I make this piece? How intimate? Can I portray to people different characters and situations without ever leaving my chair?” Weir says.
With this thought guiding the process, the minimalist impressions of characters was born. To some viewers, the production has seemed much like the journey of one man, as the characters are at different ages with the last one going as far as dying on stage.
Dead Yellow Sands explores themes of surviving potentially crippling illnesses and blindness and the experiences of blind people, dealing with being terminally ill with cancer and exploring the life stories of some homeless people.
Weir says it has been intriguing to see people’s reactions to the production.
People coming to experience the production should expect to be taken on a journey that celebrates the human spirit, he says.
“No matter what the circumstances are, what each of the characters has is an enormous capacity for understanding and acceptance. Also for expressing love and humour, even in the most dire of circumstances.
“Somebody said to me after watching the show that an angel touches each of the characters. In some of the sketches some arbitrary person does a random act of kindness, which becomes important to the character. People don’t lose their humor, their kindness and their humanity,” he says.
Dead Yellow Sands is at the Market Theatre from November 17 to December 10.