Theatre Review: The Tent

Posted: November 10, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: ,
Review:  The Tent
Written and directed by:  Megan Choritz
Cast:  Nicola Hanekom, Sizwe Msutu, Pierre Malherbe, Tandi Buchan, Leon Clingman, Albert Pretorius, Nelson Chileshe Musonda and Lungelo Sitimela
Review: Astrid Stark

First Published in The Sunday independent, 8 November 

Powerful South African drama explores the human condition. 

In a dusty village called Treurigheid (sorrow) a small conservative community has spun around itself a superficial cocoon of secrets and lies.  Their local petrol station is the gathering point for much malicious gossip.   Overnight a tent appears behind the petrol station and the collision between the liberal inhabitants of the tent and the conservative villagers shatter many carefully constructed lives. This is the basic premise for Megan Choritz’s play, The Tent.  Choritz also directs this sensitive piece that explores the nature of mankind within a South African context.

Nicola Hanekom as Ruth and Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson. Photo by Hannes Thiart

Nicola Hanekom as Ruth and Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson. Photo by Hannes Thiart

 The play opens with a charming, almost poetic, monologue by Sizwe Msutu’s character Sello, who runs the petrol station for his white ‘baas’.  Msutu who is perhaps better known for his roles in Interrogation Room and Shooting Stars, is a mesmerising storyteller that brings Choritz’s words to life.  Multiple award-winning Choritz, whose most recent work was the futuristic Noah of Cape Town, which she co-wrote with Graham Weir, has that special gift of writing for the ear. Her dialogue is realistic and captivating – it’s like watching a Wimbledon final.  Choritz also seems to possess astute powers of observation.  Many of her characters are stereotypes that most audience members will be able to relate to yet they are not caricatures of themselves. They are merely vessels filled with the typical characteristics that are often tattooed onto our psyche from early childhood by our parents and teachers.  They serve as messengers or mirrors that reflect our own bigotry or suppression.  Willem the owner of the petrol station, played by Pierre Malherbe, initially comes across as a caricature of your typical white, homophobic and racist male.  As the play progress he confesses that his brother is gay and that they have not seen each other for decades. Through his inner conflict and conversations with Ruth, we learn that it’s not his own beliefs, but those that the conservative villagers imposed on him, that has prevented him from seeing his brother. And that he is a desperately unhappy man because of these ‘adopted’ bigoted values. 

The inhabitants of the tent, Ruth played by Nicola Hanekom, and Samson played by Nelson Chileshe Musonda, by merely being together as white woman and black man, are an instant threat to the villagers.   To make matters worse, the women in the village soon flock to Ruth who reads tarot cards and has visions.   Some of the women begin to rebel against their abusive husbands and the false and fragile equilibrium of the village is destroyed.

Perhaps Choritz has cast her net a little wide by trying to deal with so many issues in one play.  Xenophobia, homophobia, patriarchal households, racism and the meaning of love and loyalty are all explored as the characters collide.  This makes the play quite emotional and somewhat challenging but it also means that it will appeal to a broader audience.  

Hanekom’s portrayal of the self-sacrificing Ruth is painful and moving and it is clear that she has totally immersed herself in the role. In fact the entire cast give superb performances and it is difficult to highlight specific actors.  ‘BP’ Hendriks, played by Albert Pretorius, is for me the most hopeless and sad characters of all as he is so warped by his own chauvinistic beliefs and his racism that he has completely lost touch with reality.  He sleeps with his housekeeper who falls pregnant, and in his frustration, he abuses his already brow-beaten wife.  His wife, having gained courage from Ruth, leaves him and Hendriks takes his anger out on Ruth and Samson, instead of directing his gaze inwards, thereby perpetuating the cycle of hatred and violence. 

 Pierre Malherbe as Willem  Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson and Nicola Hanekom as Ruth. Photo Hannes Thiart.

Pierre Malherbe as Willem Nelson Chileshe Musonda as Samson and Nicola Hanekom as Ruth. Photo Hannes Thiart.

Alfred Rietmann’s set design and lighting instantly transports us to a backwater village garage that we all have, at one time, stopped at or driven past. A small battered tent sit next to towers of old tires, empty plastic bottles, a broken washing machine and a bicycle seat.   Pitchie Rommelaere’s soundscape is haunting.  It is at once gothic and futuristic and has undertones of the impending disaster. 

The hour and ten minute performance simply flies by.  It is an entertaining production that leaves you with much to mull over afterwards.  My only problem with theatre is that once it is over you are left with nothing tangible, apart from a ticket stub, and the memory of the performance.  It would be great if more scriptwriters, like Pieter-Dirk Uys, would make their scripts available online so that we can go back and dip into our favourite scenes; as one does with a much loved novel or poetry collection.

The Tent was one of the showcase productions of last year’s Artscape spring drama season programme.  After its successful short run it is now the third and final main production of the Artscape’s new writing programme.  This year’s Artscape showcase productions are Sindiwe Magona’s Wake Up!  and Gideon van Eeden’s The Myth of Andrew & Jo which will be shown at the end of November.

The Tent runs at Artscape until 14 November.
The End

  1. megan says:

    Thanks for this fantastic review. I have been looking for it on line and I’m so happy I found it.


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