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OVIRI – A SAVAGE CIVILIAN (article first published : 2002-07-1)

Oviri – A Savage Civilian by Janet van Eeden-Harrison forms the second part of a trilogy. The first, A Savage from the Colonies was performed in Grahamstown last year and the final work, A Savage Wit which deals with Jane Austen, will be presented next year.

Dealing with the nature of the artistic soul as well as the effects of colonialism on non-Christian societies, the script is well researched and the dialogue is good. Van Eeden-Harrison skillfully incorporates into an hour-long fascinating production the last portion of the life of one of the world’s most famous painters. She also plays the part of Mette, Gauguin’s wife.

Petro Janse van Vuuren is charmingly feminine and naiive as Gauguin’s adored 14-year old daughter Aline and petulantly demanding and sensual as one of his lovers - both in their early teens. I was impressed by Neliswa Mkhize’s contained stage presence as Tehura but she needs to improve her projection skills.

Justin Southey has much to offer in his daunting task of playing the mentally disturbed and intense van Gogh as well as a policeman, eager bank official and the Man. However, he tended to over-dramatise and his speed of delivery often rendered his diction unintelligible.

The play fairly and squarely belongs to Deon Stewardson who puts in an impressive performance as Paul Gauguin. Having directed two productions earlier this year where a leading actor had to pull out at short notice due to circumstances beyond their control, my sympathies lie with both director and actor as well as the rest of the cast. The original lead, Ian Roberts, had to move out of the production because of his contractual obligations to a television sitcom. However, van Eeden-Harrison acknowledges his invaluable help and advice with the script.

Deon Stewardson had all of nine days to get the role, plus the French accent, under his belt and he has produced a living, breathing, sexy and passionate Gauguin. He has a good vocal and he uses them well, carefully orchestrating moods and emotions to produce a credible Gauguin who is eventually driven to suicide by syphilis, financial ruin and the death of his beloved daughter.

Audiovisuals of the artist’s work accompany the run of play but, in the B2 Arena venue in the Monument at Grahamstown, they were not screened to best advantage except during the blackouts.




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