Theatre review: Careful

Posted: September 29, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Performance:  Careful
Director:  Roy Sargeant
Actors:  Diane Wilson and Deirdre Wolhuter
Review: Astrid Stark
First published in The Sunday Independent, 27 September ’09

 Fiona Coyne’s latest play raises profound questions around issues of sexual orientation, personal sacrifice and the fear of failure, by means of playful humour and sharp dialogue. 

In a desperate move, an aging and out of work theatre actress, played by Diane Wilson, begs for a role as a lesbian in a play.  Upon reading the script she realises she’s completely out of her depth. She asks a gay theatre critic, played by Deirdre Wolhuter, to help her prepare for the role.   At their meeting the hot-headed, no nonsense critic clashes with, what she perceives to be, the archaic sensibilities of the aging actress.  Initially the two women appear to be so different they may well be from separate planets. But as they bicker and insult each other’s sexual preferences and peculiarities, they come ever closer to the truth, and soon it becomes apparent that they have more in common than they wanted to admit.  Mirroring each other’s fears and prejudices; the two women have to confront their own bigoted beliefs.

 Diane Wilson and Deirdre Wolhuter

Diane Wilson and Deirdre Wolhuter


Diane Wilson was awarded the Best Actress Award at this year’s Absolut Dublin Gay Theatre Festival for her role in Careful.  It is easy to see why.   Wilson is a consummate actress and she seems to relish in her character’s eccentricity.   Her performance is flawless as her character alters between feeling distressed about her flailing career, her discarded dreams, and her thinly veiled fascination with the art critic’s lesbian relationship. 

The seemingly polarised personalities of the straight-laced actress and the liberal gay critic lend itself to humorous dialogue.   Wolhuter’s character, named Leila, first meets Wilson’s character, Jean, and Leila is appalled that this conservative woman thinks she can play a gay character.  A very disgusted Leila says to Jean, “You’re so straight, you can moonlight as a spirit level.”    However Jean is not as square as she looks, after a few glasses of wine, she confesses to having kissed, and sort of fondled, a girl many years ago.  Jean admits that she was married during the time and Leila is mortified that Jean does not consider the affair as – well, an affair.   As the two women grapple with their own and each other’s identities, abandoned dreams are dusted off, and brought out into the open. They learn that fear of failure and fear of the unknown has trapped them in a web of bigotry and hatred. Only through opening themselves up to each other, and the world, will they be able to move on and realise their full potential. 

Wilson’s powerful opening of the play initially somewhat drowns Wolhuter’s portrayal of the liberal gay critic. Wilson does have the advantage of experience over a younger Wolhuter. However as the play progresses, Wolhuter’s performance comes into her own, and she drums up empathy for her character.  Perhaps a commanding role as she had to be careful not to play the stereotypical lesbian, as much as Wilson’s character was trying to learn how to act as a lesbian.    

Careful as a funny and thoughtful exploration of relationships is very accessible.  You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the humour or to see your own reflection in the mirror held up by the sagacious hand of Fiona Coyne.   At times you can hear the sharp sardonic wit of Coyne’s Weakest Link character.  Coyne’s writing is clean and focussed, leaving little ambiguity, and ample laughter. 

Coyne’s other plays include Glass Roots, As The Koekie Crumbles, Dearly Beloved and the Shadrack Affair.   She holds an honours degree in clinical psychology which must be of great help to her when observing and documenting the human condition through her work. 

Careful is the first play in the 5th Artscape Spring Drama Season.  All the plays performed during the season are in one way or another connected to the Artscape New Writing Programme which is devoted to the professional writing and production of new South African plays.  Roy Sergeant directs the programme and in his career he has directed more than 500 professional theatre productions. 

Other productions this season include Outodidak by Schalk Schoombie, The Tent by Megan Choritz, (which is a return production), and Sindiwe Magona’s Wake up! 

Fiona Coyne dedicated Careful to the late Guy Willoughby; academic, writer and critic; whom she says embodied the central message of the play, namely, ‘to be careful not to be too careful’. 

Careful runs until 3 October at the Artscape Arena.

 The End.


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