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

DEARLY BELOVED (article first published : 2001-07-1)

With less than two full plays under her belt, Fiona Coyne has firmly placed herself as a master of universal comedy dialogue in South Africa. Last year, her Glass Roots was a great success in Grahamstown, going on to achieve the same response at the Hilton Arts Festival and it looks as if her latest offering, Dearly Beloved will follow suit.

“Dearly beloved brethren, we are gathered here today … “ is the time-honoured introduction to wedding ceremonies all over the world and this is what has given Fiona her title. The play is all about marriage but it’s also about male midlife crisis. A three-times married man meets and falls in love with a young – also married – mother of two children. They are discovered in each other’s arms, much rancour and bitterness ensues and the two couples then have to find an emotional way back to their former lives.

That’s about all there is to the plot with added interest coming from the characters themselves and their location.

Ralph Lawson is at his best as the arrogant, conceited, failed poet Douglas Raymond who is also a disaster at packing suitcases! He is supported through times of penury and dried-up creativity by his long-suffering waspish and highly articulate wife Emma, a part safe in the expert comedy timing hands of Mary Dreyer.

Enter the young woman – gushing, over-enthusiastic baby-talking blonde, nicely played by Lara Bye. This is a part which could become too sugary for words but Lara makes Michelle Middleton an enchanting character with whom you can eventually sympathise. Enter the fourth part of the equation – Lara’s husband Garth Middleton. Here, Adam Pike gives us a strong interpretation of a volatile young man prone to violence. Successful in his career but basically insecure.

The subject of children is a touchy one between Douglas and Emma and towards the end of the play, this sparks off an insightful monologue from the former. A litany of resentment encapsulating the feelings of a middle-aged man in mid-life crisis. Another good monologue comes from Michelle when she defends her seeming stupidity and the fact that she – as opposed to Emma – has no “balls”.

The set design is simple with two large screens which double as the venue where Douglas does his poetry reading as well as the game farm when it is effectively backlit to produce a silhouette of trees and bush. The scene changes are almost choreographed – carried out in a swift, controlled and almost Ninja fashion by the assistant stage manager in dark clothing and balaclava.

Fiona Coyn’s dialogue is up-to-the minute brilliant stuff – almost Noel Coward in style. Most of the inter-personal dramas appearing at the Festival contain much angst and soul-searching. You won’t find any deep-seated plot in Dearly Beloved but then there wasn’t much of a plot in Coward’s Private Lives either.




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