BWW Reviews: OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is Deeply Poignant Must-See Theatre
OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is structured as a series of letters to God by the play's protagonist, ten-tear-old Oscar. This review is written as a response to the play's structure.
Last night, a lady told me I should write you a letter. Her name was Sandra Prinsloo and I only saw her for a few minutes at the Baxter Theatre during the curtain call of a play called OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY that is currently being performed at the Golden Arrow Studio. It is true that she did not actually say to me in so many words that I should write you a letter. It was just a feeling that passed between us as she bowed on stage and I gathered myself together after watching this deeply poignant production. I knew in that moment that I did not know how to put into words how much the play had meant to me, so I thought that maybe I should follow that feeling and write you a letter.
Before Ms Prinsloo came onto the stage, all of us in the audience had spent some time with a little boy called Oscar; Granny Rose, a volunteer who works in the ward where Oscar is living out the last days of his life after a failed bone marrow transplant, and who may or may not be a retired wrestling champion; Oscar's doctor, nurses and parents; and a host of other children with various other serious conditions. The wonderful thing is that all of them are brought to life by Ms Prinsloo in this 75-minute play, in a tour de force performance that is proof, if any were needed at this time in her career, that she is one of this country's greatest actresses.
OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is a translation of OSKAR EN DIE PIENK TANNIE, Naòmi Morgan's Afrikaans adaptation of the novella OSCAR ET LA DAME ROSE by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. Oscar is only ten years old and knows that his time is running out. As a way of helping him to deal with his situation, Granny Rose challenges him to live every one of the last days of his life as if it were a decade and the results of that experience is what Oscar writes about in his own letters to you, God. Mr Schmitt, in his book, and Ms Morgan, in her adaptation, both capture the voice of this precocious, sardonic child perfectly and this makes for powerful theatre that serves as a fresh and timeless reflection of the human condition.
Because the piece deals with the experiences of a terminally ill child, it is natural to approach the play with some apprehension. Thanks to all of the artists who have had a hand in bringing the play to life, however, those apprehensions evaporate within the first few moments of the performance. Lara Bye has directed the play with a sensitive hand, uncovering multiple textures within the story. OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is not all misery: it is funny and uplifting and, above all, always honest. It is worth the risk taken to dismantle your personal barriers, to see this play and to open yourself up to what it has to say. Of course, this leaves one vulnerable, doesn't it, God? But this is the kind of theatre that makes you realise how much strength there is in vulnerability.
The design of OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is simple and beautiful. With only an oversized bench on stage, that doubles as a hospital bed or table or whatever is needed in the moment. The lighting, designed by Pieter-Jan Kapp, is used quite decisively to shift the mood, as well as to differentiate when Oscar is really having his most intimate moments with you, God, some of which are hilarious and some of which are profoundly moving. A delicate score has been composed for the piece by Braam du Toit, playing no small part in the overall effectiveness of the piece.
God, Granny Rose says to Oscar that he is allowed to make one wish every time he writes a letter to you. She also tells him that he cannot ask for lots of toys, because you can only help people to fix things that are spiritual. That is something that I think I had forgotten - something I think that many of us forget, no matter which god we believe is in control of the universe. It is in the healing of people's spirits that the key to the world's best future will be found. So I suppose my wish is for everybody to go and see OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY to be reminded of that, to be shown how we are all significant in this world even if the world tells us that we are all insignificant, and to understand what it means that "there is always a bag of flour somewhere".
Lots of love
P.S. I don't have your address, so I hope you will find this letter here. And before I forget, thank you for showing us that a South African play can show us how to solve all of the political problems in this country without ever even mentioning politics. OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY is a significant aide-mémoire that the protest play is not South Africa's only theatrical legacy.
OSCAR AND THE PINK LADY runs at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio on Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30pm until 23 August 2014. The Afrikaans version, OSKAR EN DIE PIENK TANNIE, will be presented at that time from 5 to 9 August. There is also a matinee at 4pm on 23 August. Tickets are available via Computicket and cost R120 with special discounts available for senior citizens, students and block bookings of 10 or more. The play has an age restriction of PG10.