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WOMEN OF MUD (article first published : 2000-10-16)

Currently appearing as part of the Slice of Madness celebration of the performing arts at the Kwasuka Theatre during October is Gisele Turner and Wendy Nell’s Women of Mud which they have devised, scripted and directed themselves.

The piece “highlights core issues in the lives of two mature women on the threshold of self-discovery.” The scenario is a cave. Somewhere. The action starts with an utterly delightful scene where two wild-haired and masked cavewomen-cum-creatures from the earth’s core prance around, uttering nonsensical gibberish. They mime the slitting open of something – we presume it is the play we are about to see.

There are two women in the cave: Louise and Grail. They are on a kind of survival/self-discovery course. While Grail is determined to stick by the rules – no breakfast, only hot water; tea at the regulated times; no books; search for power objects, etc. – Louise can do without the exercise routine and prefers to cope with the experience with a more relaxed and laid-back attitude.

A few things mar their comfort: the cave seems to leak, there are inexplicable puddles of mud and there’s a gap in the rock through which any slithering creature could disturb their sleep, let alone their peace of mind.

Most courses of this nature are designed to throw people together so that in the process they learn to interact as well as understand, tolerate and identify with each other’s problems. Such is the case here. Before long, the two are sharing their dreams as well as confidences regarding their relationships with their parents.

This structure would make for good theatre in itself but Women of Mud introduces another odd dimension The two women have written a story. Whether this is part of the survival course or the result of their own initiative is left for the audience to ponder. It’s a strange and ghoulish fairy story which involves characters such as a headless princess, a two-headed hunter; a marauding bandit with a monkey on his back and a little slithery worm which grows to killer proportions. As the women survive their time in the cave, they try to keep a grip on their normal lives by enacting their “story”.

The major fault of the production is the imbalance of energy. While the “story” is told with much gusto and verve, both actresses need to project more energy into the characters of the two women. Also, there are continual changes in lighting states which are distracting and unnecessary.

Whether they deal with female or male issues, dramatic pieces should be able to be appreciated by both sexes as each impacts on the other. My other half, no slouch when it comes to criticism, pronounced himself “confused by it all”. And herein lies the crux of the problem. The play exists on several levels which don’t always sit comfortably with each other. The “fairy story” hovers close to but not quite gels with the existence of the cave creatures. The women’s stories, again, come close but don’t connect with the fantasy element.

Make no mistake, there is good theatre here. Particularly when Grail accuses Louise of not knowing when a relationship is finished. And the final moments when both women discover self-awareness and take control of their lives is extremely moving and poignant.

This is a highly worthwhile dramatic production and I urge audiences to catch it during A Slice of Madness because I don’t believe this is the last we shall see of Women of Mud. With some tight directorial control, it has the potential to be one of the best dramatic works to issue from Durban. There are two more performances: October 21 and 26. Book at Computicket or phone Kwasuka Theatre on 309-2236.




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