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BWW Reviews: Evocative MIRAKEL a Tribute to the Legacy of Reza de Wet

The second production in the University of Cape Town Drama Department's Winter Season is Reza de Wet's MIRAKEL, the final play in the playwright's conceptually linked TRITS trilogy. With De Wet's death from leukaemia last year still fresh in the minds of South African theatremakers, the opportunity to see her work on stage is the ultimate tribute to a playwright who was known for her richly imaginative and deeply haunting work. This production serves her legacy well.

MIRAKEL tells the tale of a group of travelling performers, making their way from town to town in Depression-era South Africa. Led by Danté du Pré, the destitute company arrives in a town all but owned by Anna Vermark, a woman spurned by one of the actors, Abel, who has since taken up with Lenie since he deserted his wife years before. Abel warns his co-performers - including Salomé, an actress whose star has long since faded, and all-rounder Antoine - that something is afoot, but is ignored, thus initiating a downward spiral of events that forces them to confront themselves and the realities of their current situation.

Daniel Richards and Renata Redelinghuys deliver remarkable performances as Danté and Salomé, all the more so given that the roles they are playing are three times their age. Wisely, they do not waste energy trying to play the age of their respective characters, but focus rather on everything else that make them tick. This choice makes both of them completely believable. One doubts neither Danté's experience nor his authority over this small group of players, while Salomé's preciousness over everything but the inner lives of the various parts she has played rings completely true. That aspect of the character supplies a great deal of humour, but that is not the be all and end all of Salomé, nor is Danté's status the sum total of his persona. Both are seduced by their illustrious past, waiting to be liberated from their torturous present.

As Antoine, Gantane Gwane Kusch gives an impassioned portrayal of a man who is tormented by the very situation that offers him salvation. Emma Kotze is all sinister elegance as Anna, veiling her menace with an efficient and unquestioningly pleasant façade. David Viviers plays Abel with a fine-tuned sense of the character's inner conflict, but there are times when the language feels a little uncomfortable in his mouth. Thandiela Goldman captures Lenie's general sense of displacement well, but could work towards greater moment-to-moment specificity in the role.

As a play text, MIRAKEL offers a great deal to savour. Written in in supple and evocative Afrikaans, the play is laced with intriguing touches of the macabre and a wicked sense of self-deprecating humour. De Wet's characters are fascinating and the tragicomic, Chehovian tone evoked in her writing really engages the mind as the narrative twists and turns towards its climax. Only in its conclusion does MIRAKEL flounder, missing out on a moment where everything comes together profoundly to offering a compelling truth about our own existence as social beings.

Sandra Temmingh's direction of the piece is meticulous. Staged on her own set design in a traverse stage layout, she manipulates the characters deftly through the space, guiding the actors to deliver perfectly sized performances in the intimate playing space. Leigh Bishop's costumes and Luke Ellenbogen's lighting support and enrich Temmingh's work. Details like the red light shining through the stained glass window at the top of the second act and Abel's weathered and worn-out shoes really build one's belief and investment in the production.

It has been some time since I saw a piece of Afrikaans theatre and MIRAKEL made me wish there was more of it around - or perhaps just more of it that I was aware of - especially if it is brought to life as beautifully as this De Wet text is by this creative team and ensemble cast. The sense of unity that characterises every aspect of this production is a huge part of what makes it so appealing. Even without a fully convincing dénouement, the play still plants thoughts about what it means to be an artist creating that most intimate of interactions between the actor and the audience. In that endeavour, this production of MIRAKEL delivers the goods.

MIRAKEL played a short season at the Arena Theatre on UCT's Hiddingh Campus in Orange Street, Gardens, closing tonight after a week of performances.

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From This Author David Fick