BWW Reviews: THE PERVERT LAURA a Subversive Play from an Audacious Playwright
You have to hand it to Louis Viljoen. The man is an honest-to-god real-as-they-come playwright, and he explores something new in every play he writes. His latest piece, THE PERVERT LAURA, is a taut psychological drama about a woman whose past manifests itself her present, driving her to face some dark truths and make some difficult choices. It is an audacious and subversive play, an exploration of the murkier areas of commonly accepted psychological norms and moral values.
THE PERVERT LAURA kicks off with its titular character in therapy. It is a key week in her life, as she faces disciplinary action at work for her behaviour in the office and the return of her father from prison. The play follows her interactions with a casual sexual partner, her sister and her father, with each character pushing her towards the edge of an emotional precipice, the ultimate question being whether or not she will jump into an existence of which she has always been aware, but which - until now - she has resisted. This must seem like a rather vague synopsis of the play, but THE PERVERT LAURA has so many carefully orchestrated twists and turns that it would be a pity to betray the specifics.
Viljoen delivers some masterful writing in THE PERVERT LAURA. The opening scene between Laura and her therapist, for example, brilliantly handles the play's exposition, without ever feeling like it is simply planting information in the audience's minds. Structured in four extended two-person scenes, the play introduces a series of rich characters, each fascinating in the way they respond to Laura's unconventional behaviour. Viljoen's dialogue is rich, going for the gut when it needs to but also filled with darkly absurd humour that illuminates the more nefarious aspects of the play.
In directing his own play, Viljoen keeps the audience's attention meticulously focused on the characters, with the connections between them serving as a springboard for the action on stage. He develops an intensity of conflict during each of Laura's encounters, allowing each of the first three scenes to land respectively like fully realised one-act plays. Only the final scene, in which Laura must choose which path she will follow as the play moves towards its conclusion, falters. Although the writing continues to shift until the final moments of the play, the direction seems to approach Laura's final choice as a foregone conclusion. As a piece that explicitly plays with transgression, THE PERVERT LAURA needs to foreground Laura's conflict in the final scene to be as powerful and morally ambiguous as it wants to be.
As Laura herself, Emily Child delivers fascinating work as what most people would view as a woman in trouble. Ostensibly a woman who enjoys overpowering others, Child's Laura slips into moments of incredible vulnerability, revealing that sometimes strength of character is only a performance. Child plays beautifully alongside the rest of the cast, and they alongside her. As Laura's therapist, Terry Norton delivers a vivid, penetrating performance. Nicholas Pauling, who plays a character that Laura meets for illicit daytime sex in a hotel, creates a sharply delineated foil for Laura. Pauling and Child battle it out for dominance in their scene, and the result is compelling. As Laura's sister, Sarah Potter fashions an intensely vulnerable woman, the collateral damage of her sibling's obsessions. Laura's father is played by Guy de Lancey, who seems out of step with the rest of the company. His character work fails to capture the enigmatic complexity of the man whose coming has been heralded since the opening scene of the play.
De Lancey has also designed the production, framing the stage by not fully raising the curtain of the Little Theatre, where the play is currently being performed. In this space, this choice shifts the stage picture into an overtly filmic ratio, its overall look and mood recalling something of David Fincher's aesthetic. Simultaneously appearing washed out and colour-saturated, the world that De Lancey creates with a wall of flats, some carefully selected furniture pieces and sinister lighting (for which credit is shared with Luke Ellenbogen) is the kind of edgy environment in which anything could happen. The transitions from scene to scene need streamlining though; they are far too lengthy for an immersive psychological drama of this kind, despite the use of an effective selection of musical interludes while the curtain is down.
THE PERVERT LAURA represents strong writing from a playwright who constantly and consistently challenges himself to develop as a theatrical writer. Viljoen has created a piece of work that is as divergent from, say, his presentation of THE KINGMAKERS earlier this year, as that piece is from his hit comedy, CHAMP, which debuted two years ago. Viljoen is clearly a man to whom words matter and his ability to shape these into universes of thought, action and theatre ranks him among the best when it comes to local writers of plays, those who begin with an idea and a blank page waiting to be filled.
THE PERVERT LAURA runs at The Little Theatre on Hiddingh Campus (37 Orange Street) until 20 December 2014 at 8pm nightly. Tickets cost R100 per person via Webtickets or at the door (cash only). Advance booking is recommended. THE PERVERT LAURA contains explicit language, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature, and carries an age restriction of 18.