Let’s be alone together!

Posted: February 16, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

Pictures of You.

Director:  Rob Murray

Cast:  Liezl de Kock and Dorian Burstein

Review: Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent, 15 February ‘09



Clowns have been around for a long time and court jesters were permitted unusual freedom of speech.  After thousands of people were killed during the construction of the Great Wall of China, the Emperor decided to have the wall painted (at the potential cost of thousands more).  It is said that his jester, Yu Sze, who was the only person that could openly challenge him, convinced him to abandon the idea.  Today Yu Sze is a Chinese national hero.


Director of Pictures of You, Rob Murray understands the value of clowning and uses it, combined with character masks and very strong visual imagery, in a metaphorical study of a relationship’s downward spiral.  Through the use of clowning the audience is free to interpret the performance as they experience it.   The masks give the more disturbing scenes an edgy surrealism, which simultaneously temper the violence and add to the horror; making for some explosive theatre. Quentin Tarantino’s use of black and white camera work to depict some of the bloodiest scenes in his film Natural Born Killers comes to mind.


Janet, performed with great skill by Liezl de Kock, is a repressed housewife that wears a permanent mask of bitter disappointment.  During a flashback we are introduced to Frank and Janet’s joyous courtship which is communicated by the actors wearing youthful masks and the flirtatious swing of Janet’s hips.  Now, after years of non-communication, Janet and Frank are stuck in the unhappy together lives they themselves have created.


James Webb’s sound design is moody, surrealistic, and hints at inevitable tragedy.  The incessant dripping of a tap is a metaphor for the couple’s ‘stuckness’.  They are crippled by their own inflexibility and feelings of longing.  A withdrawn Frank is obsessed with safety, and fantasises of eloping with a beautiful young woman that appears in his dreams.  Frank doesn’t realise that he dreams of the younger Janet; the way they used to be.  Throughout the performance not a word is spoken, but you can almost hear Janet scream, “What happened to us!”  


The topic is dark and the performances edgy, disturbing and entertaining.  Janni Young, co-director of Out of the Box, showcases her puppeteering skills through the masks of the young and old Frank and Janet.  The facial masks are larger than the normal human face which adds to the haunting mood of the production.  Just as the performance starts feeling a little long, it ends with great dramatic flourish.


Pictures of You has been created by a conspiracy of clowns, in association with from the hip:  khulumakahle (FTH: K) – the same guys that brought us the award-winning Gumbo and Bird’s Eye View.  What makes this production so special is that it may be enjoyed by hearing and deaf people.  Also think of your auntie in Bredasdorp that can’t speak a word of English.  Actress Liezl de Kock says that they are considering giving every deaf and hard of hearing person a balloon to hold on their lap which will translate the music’s vibrations into the fingertips.


Conspiracy of clowns is the sharp end of FTH: K. Their aim is to compliment FTH:K by adding a brew of edgy, stylistic and experimental theatre making.   Pictures of You played to sell-out houses at 2008’s Out of the Box, and was the sleeper hit at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. It was also voted the best production at the National Schools’ Festival.


Rob Murray is ecstatic at the audience’s response after opening night.  “We wondered if the silence of the show builds up so much in the audience, that come the end, they have to talk immediately, specifically, and with much vigour. Pop! Just like that. Pop goes the word.”



Photographer: Toast Coetzer


Pictures of You runs in the Baxter Sanlam Studio until 21 February. The production moves to the Festival of Fame in Johannesburg from 11-15 May, and then to the Hilton Fest in KwaZulu-Natal, 18-20 September.




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