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GAYNOR RISING (article first published : 2004-08-18)

Opening at Kwasuka Theatre tonight, Gaynor Rising is a one-woman show by Gaynor Young directed by Maralin van Reenen which comes to Durban after its premiere performances at the Theatre in the Square in Sandton.

For those unaware of Gaynor and her history, hers is a story of survival, courage and determination which will make her one of the legendary figures of South African theatre. A highly accomplished actress on her way to stardom, her career was brutally cut short about 15 years ago when she fell 18 metres down an unguarded lift shaft from the State Theate stage during a performance of Camelot. Miraculously, she survived this horrendous experience but the toll has been great. She is now profoundly deaf, limps, one arm is unresponsive and her speech has been badly affected.

However, while she boldly defied doctors’ predictions that she would never walk or talk again, her her brain chose to erase the memory of her life as an actress and the State Theatre accident itself. So, during her long and painful period of recuperation, these lost years had to be reinstalled to her memory’s “hard drive” as family and friends built up her training and achievements through the help of newspaper articles, photographs and stories.

While the “new” Gaynor may have had to learn that she was an actress, her body and subconscious seem to understand what stage work is all about. She knows how to strike an elegant pose, add poignancy to a phrase or give a mischievous look when needed.

Five years ago she took the enormously courageous step of writing a one-woman show titled My Plunge to Fame, also directed by Maralin Vanrenen. This was highly successful and Gaynor went on to launch her book of the same name. It should be prescribed reading for anyone who needs reminding that the power of the spirit and the mind can overcome disaster.

The set is entirely appropriate. It’s as if we are watching a television interview and the camera has caught Gaynor backstage in a production that’s on the move. There are ladders, boxes, rails with costumes, coat hangers and furniture covered with cloths.

Moving comfortably around the clutter, Gaynor chats about her experiences over the past five years – among them, sharing damaged right arm experiences with Albie Sachs (who she sums up perfectly), the potential suicide victim who found hope in Gaynor’s show and Gaynor’s own feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Because of her damaged sight, she can’t drive - but she can appreciate a rainbow. While her speech may be impaired, she still tells a good story. Although she may not hear the response of the audience, she instinctively knows how to hold a dramatic pause and change a mood.

Gutsy and beautiful – both inside and out – she still evinces the whacky tomboyish humour I remember from her student days at the University of Natal. She bemoans the loss of a romantic partner but tells hilarious tales of a former relationship and a blind date and ponders whether one still has sex at 69! On being introduced to the art of snorkelling, she rejoiced in the fact that underwater is a place where everyone is deaf!

Gaynor Rising is a resounding anthem of triumph through an entertaining, humourous, poignant and beautifully presented production. Put this show at the top of your list – for its theatrical value as well as its capacity to make you think and feel inspired.

Gaynor Rising runs at Kwasuka Theatre until September 5 with performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 20h00 and Sundays at 14h30. There will be two extra shows: August 31 at 20h00 and September 5 at 20h00. To book contact Greg King on 083 544 2006. – Caroline Smart




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