This mesmerising adaptation runs through August 10-13, 15-20 and 22-27

By: Aug. 11, 2023
Edinburgh Festival

EDINBURGH 2023: Review: JM COETZEE'S LIFE & TIMES OF MICHAEL K, Assembly Hall EDINBURGH 2023: Review: JM COETZEE'S LIFE & TIMES OF MICHAEL K, Assembly Hall There are rare occasions in the theatre when dance, film, music, adaptation, ensemble and puppetry combine to create magic. This is one of them. 


Based on the 1983 novel by the Nobel-prize winning JM Coetzee, ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ follows a humble man living in a dystopian civil war amidst South African apartheid. Born with a cleft lip, Michael is constantly berated for his difference yet perseveres in building a wagon to return his sick mother to die in her hometown. However, their travels prove difficult as they face the struggles of war – racism, bureaucracy, robbers and hunger.

Both mother and son are puppets created by the Tony award-winning Handspring Puppet Company (acclaimed for War Horse and Little Amal). Their artificial bodies suggest their outsider status, contrasted with the ‘real’ actors around them. Director and adaptor Lara Foot’s fusing between body and puppet is wonderful, playful and poetic – the nine actors/puppeteers ensure every small movement, breath, nod, cough is seamlessly conveyed onstage.

Caro Daniels’ vocal portrayal of Michael was captivating, while Faniswa Yisa’s depiction of his mother was amusing, tear-jerking and wholly believable. I was surprised to find myself fully invested in and completely rooting for puppets. Along with Daniels and Yisa, supporting actors Sandra Prinsloo, Andrew Buckland, Billy Langa and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe craftily embody multiple roles while leading us through Michael's life and times.

These performances are perfectly complimented by a strong design team. Patrick Curtis’ set design of crumbling walls and a ‘danger’ warning sign is reminiscent of contemporary wars, highlighting the relevance of the story in today’s climate. Kirsti Cumming and Yoav Dagan’s film projections, Joshua Cutts’ lights, Phyllis Midlane's costumes and Kyle Shephard’s composed soundscapes were beautiful. The audience were fixated throughout the piece – a collective gasp was heard during many moments, such as when cast and crew effortlessly achieved weightless levity when Michael swims underwater chasing a goat.

The play will spark laughter, tears and amazement at the wonderful power of the theatre. It is a bit long, but 100% worth it.

Nothing short of incredible - a must-see at the Fringe this year.

JM Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K is at Assembly Hall through August 10-13, 15-20 and 22-27

Photo Credit: Fiona McPherson