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DAWIE’S BIG NIGHT IN (article first published : 2005-02-14)

I first saw Dawie’s Big Night In - a small man’s big story at last year’s Grahamstown Festival. Written by Clare Mortimer and performed by Thomie Holtzhausen, it was then titled Spider and can’t say I am altogether comfortable with the change of name.

“Spider” gave a much stronger reference to this multi-layered tale of an engaging, albeit dysfunctional, young man who is in the process of designing a fence by which he hopes to make his fortune. His idea is not to make a high fence but a wide one which will make it far more difficult for anyone to lift over items such as television sets!

It’s a subject all too dear to our hearts – that of protecting our properties and ourselves. But, as Dawie points out, fences not only keep people out, they keep them in. And here is where the spider reference comes in. Terrified of spiders, a phobia which was exacerbated when he was locked in a cupboard as a child, Dawie creates a fence that eventually becomes a web of entrapment because he can’t find a way to introduce a gate!

Dawie rambles on about his childhood, his work and promotional CD’s while he industriously strings together a motley selection of cords and cables through hopelessly inadequate supports. The fence is as dysfunctional as he is but he is commited to the process. Thomie Holtzhausen is an excellent dramatic actor and it is good to see him back in a piece like this after his hilarious appearance as one of the ugly sisters in Cinderella.

Thomie has created an endearing character and while we know Dawie hasn’t a hope of achieving his goal, we string along (pun intended!). He is a pocket philosopher and occasionally a clear-sighted assessment of human nature comes to the fore.

I enjoyed his telling of the family going on holiday to the sea and sleeping in a huge caravan (his mother called it a park home!) with beds that folded up into the wall. What the agent hadn’t mentioned was that it was situated right next to a shunting siding so the holiday was cut short! Brief references to Dawie’s bully of a step-brother Stefan give us to understand that he is prison, but for what crime we are not quite sure.

Interspersed with Dawie’s thoughtful meanderings are voice-overs in Clare Mortimer’s calm academic tones which we are to led to believe come from the portable radio at his feet. If I remember rightly, in the first presentation of the show the relationship between Dawie, the radio and the voice-overs was stronger and more inter-active. Unless we are to assume that this is what Dawie is hearing in his head, it is illogical that a radio will suddenly spring into life without other aspects of a broadcasted programme being evident, such as an announcer, commercials or music interludes.

Having written the play particularly for Thomie Holtzhausen, Clare Mortimer describes it as a “voyeuristic look into a small man’s big story, at the same time reflecting the life of ‘everyman’. … Man is not comfortable with the randomness and chaos surrounding him and is drawn to religion and various philosophies that take us away from life’s simple truths.” In Dawie’s case, it’s his fence!

Clare has infused some delightful lines into the hour-long piece and there was a much stronger response to the humour from tonight’s preview audience than there was in Grahamstown.

Dawie’s Big Night In - a small man’s big story runs for only three performances at Kwasuka Theatre on February 24, 25 and 26. Tickets R45 are obtainable from the door but early booking is advised on 082 487 5885. – Caroline Smart




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