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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE STRONGER (article first published : 2005-07-6)

In all the years I’ve been coming to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown –18, to date! – I haven’t until today seen a production in Gallery in the Round. It is situated in the bowels of the Monument, right under the “revolve” of the stage in the Guy Butler Theatre. It’s a fascinating and wonderful performing space with lots of nooks and crannies to disappear into or appear from.

It is the perfect venue in which to stage The Stronger, a production of August Strindberg’s work presented with kind assistance from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria. Directed by Mees with English translation by Philip Hartzuiker, this appearance on the NAF marked the production’s South African premiere.

Lasting little more than 30 minutes, the work is a perfect example of “less is more” or, in this case “less is the stronger”. Evrim Akyigit and Lemba de Miranda put in superb performances at a high level of energy in what is a dramatic example of the power of silence.

The characters are two actresses and the play opens with Evrim waiting in the dressing room becoming increasingly irritating with the PA system (we’ve all been there, haven’t we?) mouthing the words of the actress on stage and waiting for the cue for the final curtain. When it comes, they rush in and out of the dressing room to and from the unseen stage, catching curtain calls and united in the hype of the crowd’s adulation.

Once this is over, the stage characters fall away and reality sets in as the tensions between them slowly reveal themselves.

It’s a brilliant concept and Aidan Radier’s design of a series of pipes and lamps depicting dressing-room mirrors with shelves laden with make-up and polystyrene heads provides an exciting structure to work around.

The dialogue is handled by Lemba as she tries to communicate with her companion who maintains a stony silence and it is this silence that speaks volumes. There is a highly amusing sequence as they take off their make-up – using a vast stack of tissues in the process – when the actions of packing away pots, lipsticks and eyeliners becomes a percussive conversation in its own right. Added to this, is the noise of the set being dismantled on the nearby stage as this is the last night of the show – and therefore the end of the actresses’ working relationship.

Every now and again, as the earlier excitement or the later anger inside each one bubbles to the fore, they burst into wild uncontrolled movement. It’s a stunning performance.

The Stronger has performances on July 6 at 17h30; July 7 at 12h30 and 17h30; July 8 at 21h00, and July 9 at 11h00 and 17h30. Don’t miss it – Caroline Smart




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