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DEFENDING THE CAVEWOMAN (article first published : 2002-09-12)

Emma Peirson and Vanessa Frost’s Defending the Cavewoman hit the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown two years ago. It was one of the most popular productions on the Fringe and became a major talking point, going on to continue its full-house journey through the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunsfees the following year. Several successful seasons in Gauteng including the Theatre on the Square later, it has also performed at three other Barnyard Theatre complexes.

Therefore it comes highly tried and tested and tickets are sold out for its current season at Gateway which runs until September 15.

As the title suggests, the production is a full-on answer from the female perspective to Rob Becker’s phenomenally successful Defending the Caveman produced by Pieter Toerien and performed by Tim Plewman over 1,000 times – and still going! - across South Africa.

Writer and director of Defending The Cavewoman Emma Peirson exploits to the full Rob Becker’s philosophy that men are “hunters” and women are “gatherers”, giving actress Vanessa Frost some beautiful send-up moments for those who know the “other” play, Instead of TV and chairs, designer Angela Larson has produced a gigantic chaise longue and, where Becker’s play has caveman paintings, she has some rather grotesque drawings of unattractive female figures! Oh, yes, there’s also a large creeper with bluish flowers and a wedding dress!

Presented more as stand-up comedy with furniture than a dramatic piece, Defending the Cavewoman lacks the finesse of the other show but perhaps it wasn’t originally intended to be anything other than a humorous festival piece which took off in popularity.

Possibly intimidated by the size of the Barnyard or over-careful of the fact that she was miked, Vanessa Frost delivers her material too slowly and deliberately. Alright, her diction and articulation is impeccable and it was a joy to hear every word – makes a nice change! – but it was very much in the style of stand-up comic Gilda Blacher, fairly flat-toned and deliberate where a little pace would have brightened the dialogue considerably.

Also the comic material isn’t as new as it was, much of it having been on the Internet rounds of jokes for the last couple of years. But even the oldest and hoariest joke can remain alive by its skilful live telling – always more amusing than through the written word.

My misgivings aside, the audience simply lapped up the production and the gender salvos which came thick and fast were received with gales of laughter from both men and women. Am I getting cynical? I hope not.

The way I would rather look at it is this: if a regular Barnyard audience used to its normal menu of fairly unchallenging musical fare responds well to a show containing nothing but words then there’s hope for pure dramatic theatre in this town.

At Barnyard, you can either take your own food – but no alcohol as there is a cash bar - or get something from one of Gateway’s food outlets. We chose to eat from Nando’s (just round the corner from the theatre) and the meal was delivered in an attractive basket. Both choices of Mild and the Lemon & Herb Chicken were enjoyable and succulent, presented with chips and a selection of Nando’s sauces.

Next up at The Barnyard are Mick & Tina from September 17 to 22 (tickets R65) and stand-up comic Barry Hilton from September 24 to 29 (tickets R70). Bookings on 031 566-3045/6, e-mail barngate@mweb.co.za or visit www.barnyardtheatre.co.za – Caroline Smart




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