Review: THE PROMISE at The Homecoming Centre Will Satiate and Haunt Audiences

Damon Galgut's Booker Prize winning-novel is reimagined for the stage by theatre maestro Sylvaine Strike

By: Sep. 28, 2023
Review: THE PROMISE at The Homecoming Centre Will Satiate and Haunt Audiences

Now and then, the stars align in theatre. The funding meets the vision, the performers meet the text, and the text resonates with its audience. THE PROMISE is an example of such a monumental moment in South African theatre.

THE PROMISE is adapted from Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize-winning novel. The novel can be a nebulous entity to adapt, with its story spanning across three decades and a third-person narration technique that shifts between different characters. These tools work excellently on the page but can struggle to find its footing on stage. However, Sylvaine Strike’s characteristic directing style matches this challenge well and the ultimate marriage between the two is a fresh theatre experience that is more engaging than your run-of-the-mill prestige production.

THE PROMISE follows the disintegration of a white South African family, the Swarts, who live on a farm outside Pretoria. At the heart of the story’s conflict is a promise made by Manie Swart (Frank Opperman), the patriarch of the family, to Rachel Swart (Kate Normington), his wife, right before she dies. Manie promises Rachel that he will give the small homestead on their plot of land to their black maid, Salome (Chuma Sopotela), who lives there with her son, Lukas (Sanda Shandu). Only the youngest daughter of the family, Amor (Jane de Wet) overhears this promise, setting up the central tension between her and the rest of her family, with Manie seemingly forgetting and the rest of the characters disregarding the alleged promise.

The premise of the story itself is quite simple, but the historical context and subplots weave together a tale that is epic in proportions. Characters deceive each other, become increasingly disconnected, and struggle to integrate themselves in a changing South Africa. 

It is easy for a production with such an expansive scope to burst at the seams, but it is precisely at the seams of the production where its magic lies. The way scenes change and actors shift between characters is not a means to an end, but part and parcel of the production’s excellence. Every moment is layered with intention and adds texture to the production. This is also present in the show’s excellent sound design, with the ensemble creating soundscapes or sound effects that are removed from the source of action. This creates an interesting discombobulation that melds well with the set design - its tilted scope and distorted proportions are reminiscent of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI’s disorientating design. All these elements support the production’s narrative of disintegration (I think of Poe’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER displaced in a modern South African context). 

The show also utilises meta-awareness in its storytelling, likely to serve its transition from novel to theatre. However, sometimes this hyper-awareness upends moments that could have been sincere in its delivery. But one also understands this disenchanted approach - South African audiences will certainly relate to the disillusionment.

THE PROMISE is complete with incredible performances from the entire cast, who use impressive physicality to shift between characters. Rob Van Vuuren shines in these moments of intense physicality and delivers a mesmerising performance. Chuma Sopotela also roots the production as its narrator and as Salome - her performance rings with effortless gravitas. The comedic moments of the secondary characters, like Cintaine Schutte’s Tannie Marina, are clear-cut and unforgettable. 

The action of the show is supremely clean and allows the audience to feel at ease even during moments of high absurdity. The first half of the production is especially succinct - its tension is singular and traditional. However, the second act sometimes veers towards petering into a total state of confusion, reflective of a post-1994 South Africa that stumbles aimlessly after the promise of a utopian rainbow nation is left unfulfilled.

The promise made by Manie Swart is virtually worthless by the end. Having lived through the epic alongside the characters, audiences will resonate with the uncertain and unsettling tone of the play's end. The characters are left in a broken house haunted by unfulfilled promises, stuck in an impasse of inaction… Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Engaging, epic, surreal yet unsettlingly familiar - THE PROMISE is brilliant theatre. It is fit for audiences who are hungry for a meaty theatre experience.

THE PROMISE will be presented from 16 September to 6 October at The Star Theatre at the Homecoming Centre in Cape Town, followed by a run at The Market Theatre from 18 October to 5 November. Bookings can be made at Webtickets -

Photo: Claude Barnardo

BroadwayWorld Awards Voting


Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, an Photo
Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, and Moving

If you have read any of my LAMTA show reviews before, you’ll know that I’m an avid fangirl of their productions. And while I always rave because the raving is deserved, SPRING AWAKENING, as LAMTA’s first performance of a full-scale musical, is extra special and extra rave-worthy. As always, with LAMTA shows, the energy crackles.

A STAR IS BORN Comes to Arena@Artscape in December Photo
A STAR IS BORN Comes to Arena@Artscape in December

WELA KAPELA PRODUCTIONS presents A STAR IS BORN – the rise and fall of Judy Garland 13 to 23 December 2023 in the  Arena@ Artscape. 

NEXT!!! Comes to Arena@Artscape in December Photo
NEXT!!! Comes to Arena@Artscape in December

Wela Kapela Productions presents NEXT!!! Auditions are not for the faint of heart, at the Arena @Artscape 13-23 December 2023.

Jackï Job Comes Full Circle With AND THEN... Photo
Jackï Job Comes Full Circle With AND THEN...

Celebrated dancer and choreographer jackï job opens And Then…., a continuation of her riveting dance series, this Wednesday 29 November 2023 at the Artscape Arena Theatre, for a limited five-day season. 


Tell Me On A Sunday in South Africa Tell Me On A Sunday
Avalon Auditorium, Homecoming Centre, District Six (4/24-4/28)
Spring Awakening in South Africa Spring Awakening
Theatre on the Bay (11/24-12/02)

Recommended For You