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

SEEING RED (article first published : 2001-05-16)

In Durban, we’ve perhaps come a bit blasé about Greig Coetzee and his work, having seen his phenomenally successful White Men with Weapons on at least five occasions. We’ve also marvelled at the stamina required for 4 Play, his “personal marathon”, where he presented his four one-man shows at the Square Space Theatre recently – a process he will repeat at St Mary’s DSG in Kloof in the first week of June.

So we could be forgiven for a “been-there-done-that” attitude. But in so doing, we do the young man a major injustice. Greig Coetzee is a force to be reckoned with. His acerbic wit, ability to encapsulate an entire issue in a few pithy words and command of writing for the theatre makes him a very redoubtable force indeed.

Greig Coetzee’s latest, Seeing Red, is currently running in the Playhouse Drama until May 27. Presented by the Playhouse Company, it features a strong cast. Belinda Harward as Kate puts in a fine spirited performance as the anger-driven revolutionary. As always, Ben Voss (Jack) gives us coiled energy and rapid-fire delivery and impresses on many levels. John van de Ruit gives a logical and gently-amusing interpretation as Tom, the catalyst of the piece who is stoned most of the time.

Both Sarahleigh Castelyn (Emma) and Teboho Hlahane (XC) have difficult roles to interpret. Emma is a gangly naiive art student who finds herself buffeted by the political and emotional tensions within the group and, while Sarahleigh plays her as both suitably endearing and infuriating, I would have preferred less gawkiness in her actions. XC (so-named because schoolmates couldn’t pronounce the clicks in his Zulu name) is the product of a private school and then, as now, is the only black person in his immediate surroundings. Apart from occasional irritating Americanisms in his speech, Teboho impressed with a solid and sympathetic performance.

Seeing Red is about a group of friends coming to the end of their varsity careers in the 80’s. Basing it on his own experiences at university in Pietermaritzburg, Greig Coetzee conceived the play several years ago but found it too costly to produce. It lay dormant until he was inspired to revisit it after seeing Withnail and I,” a British cult film about two students at the death of the 60’s.

The play exists on three levels. Firstly, as an entertaining piece of theatre about the inter-action of five young people living together under one (albeit dilapidating) roof and their struggle to find their place in an ever-changing world. On a second level, as a probing and personal account of a revolutionary period in South Africa and thereby deserving a place in the annals of this country’s theatre history. And, finally, as a strongly-written play with a universal theme of a group of students fighting an oppressive regime each in their own way.

I believe that Seeing Red has a great future in South Africa as well outside its boundaries seeing, as it does, the apartheid regime through the eyes of five young people as they go about their daily – and often tempestuous – lives. It’s an exciting dramatic work and worth seeing.

Don’t be misguided into thinking it’s just another piece of protest theatre. Sure, it’s about protest but there is also much humour, fun and pathos. Greig Coetzee proves that he is as highly competent a director as he is a scriptwriter and actor while Greg King has produced an effective and simple set. There is also clever use of video clips, courtesy of Vicious Circle Productions, and music clips from 3rd Ear Music’s Hidden Years Music Project.

Performances are Wednesdays to Saturdays at 19h00 with Sunday performances at 18h00. Tickets R30 and booking is at TicketWeb outlets. Block bookings and tickets for special schools shows (May 18 and 25 at 11h00) from Eubulus on (031) 369 9497. At Wednesdays Bonus shows (May 16 and 23), Greig Coetzee will discuss the play before the show begins.

On presentation of Seeing Red tickets, Legends Late Nite Cafe Musgrave is offering a complimentary Irish coffee with any meal after the show. - Caroline Smart




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