And you thought we were just biased…

Posted: May 15, 2009 in Pictures of You
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Just in case you all thought we were just having you on, have a look at this review of Pictures of You from our performances in Jozi:

My View by Robyn Sassen

“Pictures of You” is a nostalgic tale of love, fear and darkness, conveyed with insensate masks and extremely ably maskers.

Frank & Janet say good nightThe challenge of sustaining a work with no verbal dialogue, without the facility of labile facial expression and with a story that hinges on mystery and taboo is not an easy feat. The three collaborators who have created this stunningly impressive work really do deserve a full season on the boards. This is a play which attempts to slice open its own red herrings, chops to tail, and explore them with a freneticism that is mesmerising.

Amongst the less than a handful of grownups in the auditorium when I saw this show, I was secretly nursing fears of having to watch it through a veil of the uncontained response to things for which teenagers are notorious, and was quietly steeling myself for a disrupted and headachy experience. But a pin could have been dropped. With its nostalgic values and fifties music, its disrupted static by James Webb, which conveys the monotony and the sinister simultaneously, and its lack of computer slickness, “Pictures of You” held a theatre full of kids utterly enthralled.

The use of masking has long histories which go back into pre-colonial Africa. The mask becomes a character with its own personality. Maybe it’s dangerous and malevolent. Maybe it brings quietude and balance. In “Pictures of You” we cast an eye into the lives of Frank and Janet. Janni Younge’s masks skitter between her emotionally jagged expression and his resigned features, dented by sadness long held; and more placid, younger reflections of both of them.

Frank opens the travel brochureFrank and Janet are a middle-aged couple in drab suburbia. The spark has left their relationship. The monotony of everyday gesture every day is numbing. But then, something disrupts it. A holiday. In Paris. Or rather, the idea of one, shoved through the slot in the door, one morning.

And this opens up a Pandora’s box of beautiful memories. Memories of meeting, and falling in love and doing spontaneous things under the spell of love. It’s a story within a story which justifies the shift in expression in the masks – from torpid sad ones, to lighter, younger ones. This device of masking pushes the performance skills of De Kock and Burstein to the hilt, enabling our reading of their every word only through body; forcing the insensate masks to come alive with nuanced emotions and give both Frank and Janet real humanity, spiced by physical humour which will have you laughing and crying because of its oft impassioned unexpected violence.

A moment across time as old Frank watchesBut their lives are disrupted by another great interlude and the presence of another Pandora’s box. A violent one. One that offers up a red herring to the work’s narrative, and causes it to stumble; together with other elements to the play which are not sufficiently pinned together. It’s a sub-narrative in which a ghost-like figure emerges from a picture. Is she an earlier manifestation of Janet? Does she serve to jigger a lonely and sad Frank back into his memories, both good and bad?

We don’t know; perhaps we shouldn’t. The mystery is disturbing and compelling. In some respects, it could have been omitted, retaining the nostalgic integrity of the work and allowing this alone to give it wing. Yet, in others, this sense of magic offers the play an otherworldly cohesion, which prevents it from being cut and dried or a simple love story.

“Pictures of You” offers the kind of succinctness for which a writer like Sylvaine Strike is known and respected, yet it pushes this further, more darkly. One last performance of this astonishingly fine piece of theatre tonight, but hopefully not the last we’ll see of it.

“Pictures of You” directed by Rob Murray, with design by Janni Younge (masks and puppets) and James Webb (sound). Performed by Dorian Burstein and Liezl de Kock. The Fringe, Joburg Theatre Complex, Braamfontein (part of the National School of the Arts’ Festival of Fame), until May 15. 011 339 6539.

Copyright  Artslink.co.za © 1997-2010

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