#Woordfees2019: A lifetime crammed into one evening in RAAK
A lifetime crammed into one evening. The dark underbelly of a relationship gone wrong. The physicalising of emotional pain. Kanya Viljoen captures these deep and disturbing themes in one coherent, if at times disruptive, narrative that is breath-takingly beautiful despite the simmering violence just below the surface. The script was partially written and then workshopped with the cast. Anoecha Krüger and David Viviers offer intimate and moving performances that have us torn between sympathy, pity and disgust at the characters.
The two lead characters met at school. He was in Matric and she was in grade 9. They immediately connect and form a deep and extremely sweet relationship – cycling, chatting and just generally spending (awkward) time together doing (really awkward) teenage things. Then they start growing up and being forced into societal roles. Men must hunt, be strong, in control and run the family business. He may not like killing, but it becomes a regular activity and in time he accepts the farm and the role of hunter/killer/dominant male. Women must be soft, obedient and caring to their husband. Despite initially planning to be a strong woman living in the city, she gives up these dreams in exchange for marriage, love and the hope of a family. Losing her mother, she attaches her entire identity to this role until she can go no more. Her body gives in, she is done, she is ready to leave.
Faced with this ultimatum, he decides to beg, negotiate and finally resorts to physical means in a last desperate attempt to hold on to the woman he loves. The woman he cannot imagine losing, despite the fact that she is no longer the person he once fell in love with. His complete indifference to her pain leads him to desperate action, which only creates more distance and separation between them. His very touch is laced with poison and she becomes his puppet. And then, once she is completely broken, they return to their normal routine. As we all do, as we all pretend that nothing serious has happened, while internally the disgust is sickening.
The lighting design, done by Viljoen and Andi Colombo, is exceptionally powerful. The use of light and shadow, stark fluorescents and flickering bulbs is used to effectively support the imagery, as it transforms between loving moments, disagreements, memory flashes, revealed secrets and the final breaking point when every hope of recovery is crushed and they succumb to their darkest sides, their deeply ingrained gender roles. The stage layout is intelligent and practical, without sacrificing aesthetically. Every part of the set is used and replaced in the perfect spot to create the perfect image. The one piece that does not become a set is the paper antelope head, which starts blindingly white and ends blood stained and broken.
I cannot pretend that this is a fun or easy play to watch. It deals with nauseating topics, but this is an extremely necessary task. What I really admire about director Kanya Viljoen is her courageous way of tackling sensitive topics. Gender norms, domestic violence and rape are not easy things to talk about, but talk we must. If we do not, these societal stereotypes will never be broken and we cannot begin to move forward and create a more promising future. Viljoen addresses these issues, but manages to make it bearable through witty and contained humour that does not break the atmosphere of discomfort, but allows the audience to breathe. She and her cast have also created extremely well-rounded characters, which has a much greater impact. You may not always agree with everything the victim does. The perpetrator may be a great guy. And when this happens, the moment of violence is even more upsetting. A unmissable moment in theatre!
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