Theatre Review: QUACK!

Posted: November 17, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: ,
Performance:  QUACK!
Director: Rob Murray
Starring:  Liezl de Kock, Lysander Barends, Emilie Starke, Taryn Bennett, Marlon Snyders, Jori Snell, and introducing Tomri Steyn and Christopher Beukes
Review:  Astrid Stark
First published in The Cape Times 17 November 2009

Afro-Gothic tale of greed is an instant thriller.

She slowly rises up like fog escaping from the trees. Her frail body is draped in broken white lace, stretches of silk and ragged cloth.  Her wooden face is set in an expression of permanent wonder.  She is the hopes and dreams of the people; inside her veins – the elixir of life.  An awful figure wrapped in black, with a face like Lucifer, pounces on the newborn waifish creature, and with a heavy syringe, extracts from her all that is good and chaste.  And so QUACK!’s diabolical plot slowly unravels before your eyes. 

Clare Louise Thomas

QUACK! is the latest production by theatre company, from the hip Khulumakahle (FTH:K).  With its dark storyline and spine-tingling soundscape it may best be described as a new age Afro-Gothic romantic thriller.  QUACK! has it all; political greed, oppression, a bittersweet love story, and death; gently laced with sporadic bursts of black humour. What is really interesting is that the storyline moves forward without a single word spoken.  The multi award-winning theatre and education company, FTH:K, develops opportunities for deaf and hearing performers within the performing arts.  The concept is that their productions are accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences. 

The cast of QUACK! wear expressive and slightly unnerving masks and the story is told through clowning and miming.  However, it is less of a Boswell Wilkie Circus, and more like Stephen King, kind of clowning that takes place.  The twisted tale starts with a dying man who, ravaged by fever, escapes into a parallel universe where he becomes a spiritual healer.  He travels across the country as a quack, dodgy politician, incoherent motivational speaker, and alchemist that harvests the hopes and dreams of the people.  He escapes into his laboratory and sets his twisted imagination free.   The story and characters display elements of The Bride of Frankenstein and Rocky Horror Picture Show, however it retains a distinctly African flavour. It is an original, somewhat sexy, and deliciously disturbing production. 

Lysander Barends is a deaf performer that plays the role of the maniac dictator/ Dr Frankenstein.  Barends, who also did a great job with his role in FTH:K’s GUMBO, seems to become one with  his evil mask and delivers a convincing performance.  It is however Liezl de Kock, playing the role of the dictator’s long suffering companion, that really makes her mask speak a multitude of emotions. De Kock who also performed in FTH:K’s GUMBO and Pictures of You knows just how to juxtapose her mask and the angles of her body to describe her tormented character.  In fact the entire cast deliver engaging performances.  By using masks the performers’ movements seems exaggerated and emotional.  Exposed hands become very expressive, and with their being no verbal dialogue to drive the plot, the production lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The opening scene depicting the dying man, the surgeons, and the movable bleeping heart is sensational; as is the final dramatic ending. 

It’s the first time the FTHK has worked with such a large cast and at times the story feels a bit difficult to follow. There are undertones of evil and a few spine-chilling moments but one never really gets the feeling that events will spiral out of control.  The plot can be a bit darker for my taste.  However if you get lost in the story, it is easy enough to allow yourself to be mesmerised by the production’s visual decadence and haunting soundscape.  Director Rob Murray keeps dissolving boundaries with his daring work and should be commended for his fearless stomping down on conventional thinking.    Jesse Kramer was set loose to create bizarre props and a clever stage design. On opening night, in a lonely corner, a bedraggled pile of shoes dangled from their laces with a little signboard that reads “Lost Souls”.  Just before entering the theatre a tin bath filled with water invites guests to baptise themselves; weird, wacky and fun.  Leila Anderson’s elaborately layered costumes with interesting textures add neatly to the gothic feel of the production.

The expressive masks by Janni Younge are mesmerising creations that sets the imagination free. Younge has recently received the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award for Theatre for her puppet and mask designs.  It is difficult not to fall in love with the enthusiastic cast and crew of FTH:K. Their viral marketing is innovative and they add sweet little extra’s such as a speed dating night after a Friday’s performance.  The QUACK! cast have been invited to perform at the QuestFest in the USA  after which it will run at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. 

QUACK! runs at Cape Town’s Intimate Theatre until 21 November.  Tickets cost R50 and concessions for students, pensioners, and the deaf and disabled, are R40.  For bookings contact FTH:K on 021 448 2838 or  Fans can keep up to date with FTH’K’s activities by following their blog


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