BWW Reviews: Must-see THE VIEW a Thrilling and Evocative Experience
Philip Rademeyer's THE VIEW, one of the keystone productions of Cape Town's Rust Co-Operative, has returned to Cape Town for a run at the Artscape Arena as a part of Artscape's Ninth Spring Drama Season. A triple Fleur du Cap nominee during Cape Town's last theatre season, the play takes its inspiration from a video that went viral on YouTube last year, in which a Baptist Church pastor, Charles Worley, unveiled his plan to rid the world of homosexuals: 'Build a great big large fence, fifty or a hundred-mile long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified 'til they can't get out. Feed 'em and... and you know what, in a few years they'll die out.'
From that gruesome concept, writer-director Rademeyer develops the story of a Boy sitting in a hermetically sealed cell, waiting for his execution. The audience sees a prison guard honouring his last request, delivering to the Boy a video tape of interviews with people from his life, which include, in true post-modern fashion, appearances by abstract figures (a Mother Earth figure and a Professor whose theories are couched in the works of Walter Benjamin) and mythological constructs (the Biblical Adam) as well as fictional characters that flesh out the backstory of the Boy. Rademeyer's writing is intellectually stimulating, but never falls into the trap of intellectualism. His ideas are communicated in lyrical soliloquies that add up to something much greater than a mere collection of monologues and deal with big ideas like prejudice and discrimination in bold ways. THE VIEW certainly treads some of the same territory that goes hand in hand with those themes, but also finds something new to say about the effects of intolerance. Plays that deal with these themes so often engage with the major tragedies that are the result these violations against humanity. But just as Rademeyer seeks to tell stories about people inhabiting the liminal areas of our human existence, he also uncovers themes that exist on the boundaries of our consciousness. What THE VIEW gets right, to devastating effect, is in how the ultimate effect of prejudice is isolation, not only for the victims but for the perpetrators too. It is the story of the total destruction of our social existence.
Rademeyer's Masters in Theatre and Performance focused on developing a queer directorial aesthetic, a context through which - in his own words - 'past texts can thus be interrogated to unveil a queerer world'. Rademeyer's direction of THE VIEW does not strictly fit that context - although there is some interrogation in THE VIEW of Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA, through the use of allusions, deconstructions and the adoption of the role-doubling technique as reconstruction of gender norms) - but nonetheless builds on some of the principles outlined in his thesis. THE VIEW is infused with a sense of destabilisation, of taking the norms of our reality and restructuring them to open up queer lives. Conceptually, what Rademeyer is doing holds together and his work in shaping the actors' interpretations is detailed. Practically, there were moments when the transitions between appearances by the Actor could have been more varied rhythmically. More often than not, it seemed as though Gabriel was directed to move in and out of her characters' spatial zones very slowly and very carefully. As those moments offer some of the interesting opportunities to play - politically and aesthetically - when an actor is shifting roles, more could have been done to interrogate those shifts.
Penelope Youngleson has designed THE VIEW with a pared down, but vivid aesthetic. The play starts off with Lombard surrounded by black space, establishing the sense of his separation from the world. As the Actor moves from character to character, a significant visual tag from each costume remains in the area in which that character appeared, creating a collage of images that inhabit the corners of the Boy's mind. The painful irony is that as the stage becomes fuller, the Boy's isolation becomes more and more heightened, setting up the final moments of the play beautifully. Her design is supported in no small way by Alfred Rietmann's lighting design, which moulds the space and engages the eye.
As the Boy, Gideon Lombard takes the next step in consolidating his reputation as one of the best stage actors of his generation. As evidenced in ...MISKIEN and SPECIAL THANKS TO GUESTS FROM AFAR, Lombard's work is immediate and detailed; in THE VIEW, Lombard is an emotional live wire. His discovery of a full physical range of movement within his tiny cell is remarkable - all the more so because the cell is imaginary, meaning that Lombard is not only finding the space to move, but must also communicate the limitations that restrict his actions.
Ella Gabriel's challenge as the Actor is a different one. Playing a dozen different parts is enough of a challenge, but the role doubling in THE VIEW comes part and parcel with the task of demonstrating the socio-political commentary invested in the use of that technique. She succeeds magnificently, by turns moving and engaging, knowing when to foreground emotional truth in a more traditionally realistic performance style and when to demonstrate character using a more dialectical manifestation.
The opportunity to see THE VIEW in this repeat season is a welcome one and Artscape is to be commended on including this play in their "Play it Again" innovation for this year's Spring Drama Season. With a solid foundation in Rademeyer's writing and tour de force performances from Gabriel and Lombard, THE VIEW is a must see, a thrilling and evocative emotional experience that reminds us of the power of our humanity and just how powerful the consequences can be when we forget it.
THE VIEW runs at the Artscape Arena as a part of the Ninth Spring Drama Festival until 9 November. Bookings are through Computicket.