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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 GREAT OUTDOORS (article first published : 2002-04-12)

When it premiered, Neil McCarthy's play The Great Outdoors was hailed as "probably South Africa's first post-apartheid play". It's a strange claim - what we have here is a slice-of-life drama, set in South Africa but not overtly dealing with local issues. But rather than something new, it is reminiscent of the wave of realistic television drama of 60’s and 70’s Britain.

The story concerns four ordinary people. Raymond (Ben Voss) is a car salesman, drawn with all the clichés of the type - brash, overbearing, full of motivational-speak and ultimately weak. His wife Paula (Tamar Meskin) is an elegant marketing executive, more style than substance. The story opens when she has had a minor car accident and is helped by Neville (Esmael Teixeira) a menacing, intense cop who was in the army with Raymond.

In gratitude, Paula invites Neville and his sexy, footloose dancer girlfriend Cassie (Belinda Henwood, who is lovely in a somewhat underwritten role) to dinner. Relationships begin to form, and once Raymond turns to Neville for help after he runs over a man from a squatter camp after a couple of drinks too many, things spiral out of control.

The play, performed in the round in the intimate Square Space of the University of Natal Durban, is given pacy direction by Maurice Podbrey and offers both humour and things to ponder. Are we all so ready to ignore the rules when it suits us? Is suburban morality merely the mouthing of phrases drawn from self-help guides? Is the South African Everyman or Everywoman totally unprincipled?

Podbrey's production is fast-paced and the performances are all good, with Teixeira particularly convincing as Neville. The basic set works well, and Paul Kock's saxophone playing offers a counterpoint to the action on stage. But, while it is an interesting evening at the theatre, ultimately the production and performances are better than the play. The plot creaks in places and the situations are too cliched for The Great Outdoors to attain any kind of classic status.

The Great Outdoors runs until May 5. Booking is at Computicket on (011) 340-8000 or 083 915-8000. - Margaret von Klemperer




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