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PEOPLE ARE LIVING THERE (article first published : 2001-09-12)

Last night saw the opening of the University of Natal Durbanís Drama and Performance Studies departmentís presentation of Athol Fugardís classic play People Are Living There.

A difficult time for one and all. Opening night nerves from a cast commited to do justice to Fugardís incisive writing, performed worldwide by some of the theatre industryís luminaries, added to their own and the audienceís sense of shock following the shattering and tragic news of the day. This was the appalling attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington - earth-shattering and horrific acts of terrorism, the effects of which will be felt the world over.

Director of the production Tamar Meskin must have had difficulty keeping her thoughts focused as well. While she had received e-mail assurance that he was safe and unharmed, her brother lives opposite the Trade Centre in New York, an apartment she had shared with him when she lived in New York several years back.

Originally titled The Silkworms, People are Living There looks at the passing of time and the universal focus on youth and energy. A process in which the old, the mentally challenged and the sensitive often fall victim to this focus and become left by the metaphorical wayside.

Carrying the lionís share of dialogue and action, Susan Monteregge puts in a powerful and penetrating performance as the embittered Millie, fighting the ravages of age and burning for revenge. This all-absorbing revenge is in the process of being wreaked on her boyfriend/lodger who has curtailed their 10 year-old relationship. A character which the audience only gets to see as a shadow on the landing, he lives above the scene of the action and his movements cause Millie much anger and frustration.

Growing in stature as a performer is Tyron Akal who won an FNB Vita award for his performance in War Cry, an earlier production directed by Tamar Meskin. He plays Don (Fugardís alter-ego), the cynical student who takes upon himself the role of observer, goading Millie to a hitherto-unexplored level of self-analysis. John van de Ruit brings an appealing sense of vulnerability to the role of the simple-minded Shorty, a postman who is constantly belittled by all. Particularly virulent in her disparaging remarks is his wife of six months Sissy played, with suitable waywardness and self-absorption by Clare Cassidy.

This is a consistent and sustained production of Fugardís thought-provoking and multi-layered work. Nice to see the talented Izan Greyling back in the theatre industry again and his set design is workable and effective.

Bearing in mind the consequences of the day, Tamar Meskinís programme notes that the play speaks to her personally ďabout the anarchy and despair that result when we cease to relate on a human level ÖĒ had a powerful and chilling aptness.

People Are Living There runs until September 15 at 19h00 in the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. Tickets R20 (R10 for students, scholars and block bookings over 10). To book contact Claudette Wagner on (031) 260-3134 between 08h30 and 13h00.




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