NAF 2013. The Snow Goose directed by Jenine Collocott. Featuring James Cairns and Taryn Bennett.

The Snow Goose

Director: Jenine Collocott

Cast: James Cairns and Taryn Bennett

Venue: Kalk Bay Theatre

UNTIL: June 28

Rating: ****

As this sad, sweet play drew to a close on opening night, strong men could be observed furtively dabbing their eyes, while females in the audience were less inhibited in their emotional response.

The reason is not hard to find: put together the elements of girlish innocence, a wounded creature of the wild, a brave recluse who emerges from his seclusion to save the lives of fellow men and you have the material for deeply moving drama – the stuff whereof this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 70-year old classic is wrought.

As an additional piece of serendipity, its Cape Town première coincided with the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk to enhance the show’s historical relevance and poignancy.

Many a director would be tempted to milk the sentimental value of such a piece for all it is worth, cheapening it in the process. Not so in the case of Jenine Collocott, who adds touches of humour to leaven the subject matter without diminishing its emotional impact; caricatural masks worn by both protagonists also serve as a gentle reminder that this is a stylised representation of the well-known story, keeping a degree of distance between audience and action.

The award-winning duo of Cairns and Bennett serve Gallico’s tale handsomely. Bennett, in particular, excels as the naive Fritha, her character well-rounded and utterly plausible both as an untried girl and, later, as a young woman coming to terms with her loss.

Cairns strongly projects the complexity of Philip Rhayader, lonely social pariah with a heart of gold melted by the intrusion of Fritha into his bleak world. The mask he dons for this role enhances rather than detracts from the power of his performance.

Staging is economical and ingenious, with nothing more sophisticated than an assemblage of crates and a table to convey everything from a post office to a sailing boat.

One has to question whether the intermittent news broadcasts concerning the progress of WWII up to the miracle of Dunkirk are really necessary, as they disrupt the action; a BBC-accented voice off-stage would do just as well to track events from 1939 to 1944 without necessitating swift changes of personae for Cairns and Bennett.

That minor quibble aside, the polished staging of The Snow Goose leaves little to be desired, and this is truly theatre for all ages, with its edifying blend of courage, warmth, and compassion. Not to be missed before it moves to Grahamstown.