True love knows no boundaries.

Posted: May 28, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , , ,

First published in the Sunday Independent

©Astrid Stark

Once you are seized by love’s first raptures, it ravages reason, and swiftly disengages all logical brain patterns.  The wise prophet, Kahlil Gibran, wrote on the nature of this beast, “When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep.  And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.”

The desperate lovers in Stephen Simm’s latest play, Under the Fig Tree, find themselves helplessly trapped in their illicit love affairs.   The story is set in an era when interracial relationships were not only severely disapproved of, but also carried with it the very real possibility of a death sentence.  During this time a young couple, played by Diaan Lawrenson and Jody Abrahams, fall deeply in love.   Defying all laws and traditions, the embattled pair continues their love affair under the Fig tree, away from the watchful eyes of a conservative society.  Soon enough their relationship reaches a crucial point and this is when they find a box of old letters that was written by another couple many years ago. The two stories of four lovers gently intertwine and unfold as secrets are unveiled and hearts broken.

Jody Abrahams and Diaan Lawrenson, Photo by Andrew Brown

Jody Abrahams and Diaan Lawrenson, Photo by Andrew Brown

Diaan Lawrenson, much loved for her role as Paula in 7de Laan, co-owns Jester Productions with Jody Abrahams, which produced Under the Fig Tree. Dressed in spectacular costumes by Hip Hop and with her flowing golden tresses, Lawrenson’s character personifies the young, beautiful and aristocratic daughter of a rich farmer.  Her flighty mannerisms and cocksure attitude toward her lover, whose social status is far below hers, is perhaps fitting for the times under which they lived. However, every now and then it felt as if 7de Laan’s Paula was on stage, which is somewhat distracting.  That said, Lawrenson acts with great confidence, and she does have a very engaging stage presence.

Her partner in crime, Jody Abrahams, is a multi-award winning actor that has performed all across the major international stages; from Broadway to the West End.  Abrahams received his big break in David Kramer’s Kat and the Kings and he is a consummate television actor.  Even though both actors delivered solid performances, it did feel as if Lawrenson, with her spectacular costumes and sparkling presence, somewhat dominated the play.

The set design is simply gorgeous. An enormous photograph of an ancient Fig Tree dominates the background and is displayed in panels, which set designer Leopold Senekal says, facilitates the journey between the two couples’ worlds.  Distressed furniture and an old swing convey a rustic, almost pastoral, landscape. The stage has the intimacy of a fabled forest scene, complete with soft lighting that looks like slivers of sunlight streaking through leaves;  perfect for romantic trysts and tempestuous love affairs.    Senekal has just recently returned from London where, among others, he has produced work for Beggars Opera and the Edinburgh Festival.

Haunting melodies and the romantic set design create a dreamlike ambience which permeates the entire piece. Musicians, Faizel Davids, Gertjie Besselsen and Yazeed Williams, provide the background music that effortlessly enhances the undertones of desire, longing, and the fragility of the human condition. 


The theme of love at any cost has intrigued playwrights for centuries; just think of the many staged versions of Romeo and Juliet and Madame Butterfly.  Under the Fig Tree is a bit like South Africa’s own Pocahontas. Lovers of romance and fans of Abrahams and Lawrenson will enjoy this intriguing saga.  And we will heed the words of the Kahlil Gibran, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love:  Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

Now on at the Sanlam Studio, at the Baxter Theatre, until 30 May.


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