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

GUMBO (article first published : 2008-07-4)

Presented by From the hip & Khulumakahle and directed by Tanya Surtees, the entire work of Gumbo does not have a single sentence spoken, but merely grunts, sounds and one word sporadically. Because of this element, various other techniques are used: clowning, mime, puppetry, sign language, and filmic-like technical gadgets.

The play starts off as we see the life of a deaf-boy who works in the kitchen at his fathers ‘restaurant’. The eating house is small and located in a lonely area in a large house. Two travellers, a father and his daughter, need a rest from their travelling and stop at the eating house. When they get there they are served up a dish and the fathers play a game of cards during which a father gambles his daughter away. The daughter’s father leaves and she is forced to live with the deaf boy and his father. The father begins to woo the new houseguest.

As it turns out, the son and daughter fall in love and plan to escape the home because of the deaf boy’s father’s strict conduct with them, making them clean constantly. After much anxiety and suspense, the girl falls pregnant with the son’s baby and the couple leave on a boat the deaf boy built. The girl’s father returns to buy her back but at the end the couple successfully escape the house leaving the fathers to drink away their loneliness and sorrow.

The set was simplistic on the brink of realism and props had a cartoonish-nature to them, in colours of blue, black and white. The mixtures in styles of the props and set helped create a kind of alternate/separate world in which the complex story was told. With not a single sentence spoken, Rob Murray, Liezel De Kok, Lysander Barends and Marlon Snyders brought to the audience a believable clear story and an emotion expressed was never confusing. Filmic qualities brought out via the miniature house at the beginning and end, the growing and dying of flowers to express characters emotions and many other sections showing snippets of different actions happening right after each other or simultaneously was similar to a film montage which was very successfully carried through.

There was a little bit of everything a theatre piece can show you: dance, physical theatre, puppetry, mime, clowning and very small cabaret piece. All the styles were blended into one amazing story that had the audience captivated from start to finish. Facial expressions were precise and clear and extremely emotive. It was certainly a conscious piece of theatre that allows for a deaf audience as well as a hearing-audience. Without a doubt a humbling play with thrills, laughs, intrigue and amazement; which was very thought provoking for all to watch. - Shika Budhoo




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