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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 TRAVELLERS (article first published : 2007-09-24)

The Travellers, which formed the flagship production of the recent Witness Hilton Arts Festival, is a beautiful piece of whimsical theatre perfect for a venue like the Playhouse Loft where audiences can get intimately involved with the action and the characters. Sadly, it was not seen to its best advantage in a large venue like the Hilton College Theatre.

That said, The Travellers directed by Sylvaine Strike is a delight. It’s about Frosts Family Theatricals, a tatty entertainment group comprising Mother (Toni Morkel) and her twin children, although this identity is brought into question later in the play which places an entirely new perspective on things!

The two youngsters, Iris and Irving, are played by Shelley Meskin and Daniel Buckland. They are delicious as spunky children, copying their mother’s peremptory gestures and sayings, sending up their mistakes and generally finding amusement in their restricted hard-working world. They battle to learn their lines, do their voice exercises and plough through Shakespeare! There are lovely poignant moments as the boy and girl discover they have feelings for each other, feelings which Mother tries valiantly to drum out of them with her “no touch” decree.

All three actors are of the same height and not very tall which means that they can manoeuvre in and out of their performance area with ease. They work extremely well together and there are some entrancing scenes - I loved the one where they counted their meagre takings.

The dialogue is a mix of speech, jabber or sounds – the kind of mid-European non-speak we have come to expect from directors such as Sylvaine Strike and Helen Iskander.

Chan Nakar has designed a clever set. Revolved by the performers, it offers a front and back stage view of this makeshift travelling theatre. It has a spiral staircase which is nothing more than a few footholds round a pole and it must have been terrifying to manoeuvre initially but Toni sprints up and down it (in high heels nog ‘al). The stage itself has several trapdoors which gives the impression that there is a living area below the stage. These trapdoors were used to good effect as Mother charted the growth of her “children” – this is seen by the three sets of legs waving in the air in a variety of shoes and the increase in the complexity of movement as the feet grow older!

The Travellers is presented by the Fortune Cookie Theatre Company and it offered me the pleasure of seeing Toni Morkel, who we all know well in Durban from her days when she worked with the Fantastic Flying Fish Dance Company. She has now become an actress to contend with!

Don’t miss this if it comes your way but if the performance venue holds more than 100-odd people, make sure you sit close to the front so you won’t feel distanced from this fascinating piece of theatre. – Caroline Smart




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