09 July 2012 | BRUCE DENNILL
SHOW: Miskien - A festival favourite that has yet to come to Joburg, Miskien begins on a small stage, littered with waste paper.
CAST: Albert Pretorius, Gideon Lombard
DIRECTOR: Tara Louise Notcutt
VENUE: Vicky's, Grahamstown
Sitting in the centre of all of this, perched on the edge of a table, is Albert Pretorius’s Cormac, whose opening monologue about the banality of his long-term relationship and life in general sets the tone for a play that is hugely affecting and beautifully acted, using minimal props and peripheral distractions.
The use of bilingual dialogue (English and Afrikaans) is one standout idea, but it’s so loose, real and full of integrity (in terms of its authenticity anyway; much of the subject matter is not particularly edifying) that most average South Africans will not even notice the switches between languages.
Communication is perhaps the central theme of the play.
The litter is the discarded efforts, written down in an effort to avoid mistakes and then chucked when he realises how silly he sounds, of Gideon Lombard’s Layton to connect in a deep, planned way.
And the vignettes in which the characters appear in each other’s company and then alone illustrate how superficial their connection is in some ways, even though they are best friends.
Pretorius and Lombard are extraordinary actors.
They can extend themselves to extremes in completely different ways simultaneously.
One example is a scene in which they’re watching a rugby match: the physical comedy involved is precise and hilarious, even as their multi-layered dialogue is touching on serious issues.
Both characters are suffering from that least macho of topics to discuss: loneliness.
And the way they’re trying to solve the problem is leading to a developing, ever-growing ennui, made fascinating by some very skilled writing (the script is a collaboration between both the actors and director Tara Louise Notcutt).
The ennui occasionally slips into frustration or anger or both, completely, if temporarily, changing the nature of the characters.
When not being confrontational, the friends unwittingly slip into the routines of an old married couple, anticipating each others’ superficial needs – simple things like having a daily “happy hour” at the pub, and ordering the other’s favoured beer if they arrive early.
And when they begin to rely on these routines for meaning, they don’t seem to notice.
Layton’s efforts to verbalise his deeper feelings are pathetic and heartbreaking at the same time, and again, Lombard’s acting as he struggles to meet his own expectations (never mind Cormac’s) is of the highest quality.
The action is cyclical. As the characters go around each time, small changes are introduced, and the cumulative effect by the end of the play is profound. But it sneaks up on you…
The vulnerability of both Cormac and Layton at the end of the play is so real that it feels awkward to be in the same room as them.
One is fighting a battle he wants to win; the other a battle he might want to lose.
The tenderness involved is extreme, but so is the fear. You cannot leave unmoved.
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