Theatre review: Womb Tide

Posted: June 23, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

First published in the Cape Times 22 June

Written by Lara Foot, Directed by Rob Murray, Set and Props by Craig Leo and Emilie Starke, Costumes by Leila Anderson. Starring Daniel Buckland, Liezl de Kock, Emilie Starke and Kim Kerfoot.

at The National Arts festival in Grahamstown, Loerie Hangar, until 25 June. ASTRID STARK reviews

Things fall apart.

The guys at, from the hip: khulumakahle (FTH: K) and a conspiracy of clowns are at it again, and as may be expected, their latest production is another deeply stirring tragicomic tour de force.   The FTH:K team who brought us, among others, Pictures of You, Gumbo, and more recently, Quack! are rapidly becoming known for their emotionally charged and superbly executed theatre productions.  Lara Foot saw Pictures of You last year and she approached Rob Murray who is a founding member and the Artistic Director of FTH:K.  She wanted to know if Murray would be interested in directing his team with her play Womb Tide, which she wrote and directed in 1996.  Murray said he would be keen and the overhaul of Womb Tide started. Considering that FTH:K performances have been specially devised for deaf and hearing audiences, this was no mean feat.  Murray says they have taken a lot of liberties with Foot’s original play but that he is sure she’d be delighted with end product.  The result is startling, mesmerising and very powerful. 

Daniel Buckland and Liezl de Kock in Womb Tide - photo by Sam Reinders

Womb Tide takes us through the lives of a young and naive couple who fall in love and start their life together. It is set in the mid to late twentieth century in South Africa. He rides a bicycle and she chain-smokes long cigarettes and wafts around in her nightgown throughout the day. For the most part they are an ordinary couple trying to make a living together.  However, they each have their own particular little twitches that at times complicate things, and at other times, offer solutions to their escalating problems. She falls pregnant, which we suspect is due to the rather sexy swing scene, and just as life seems like bliss; things fall apart.  And they do so in a very bad way.

Liezl de Kock in the female leading role delivers a luminous performance.  Her looks are somewhere lodged between Audrey Hepburn and Helena Bonham Carter, and she has the temperament of Batsheba in Thomas Hardy’s, Far From the Madding Crowd.  When de Kock’s character gets angry, and she does this in the blink of an eye, you can see the electricity charging through her body.  She looks dangerous and like a woman on the verge of a violent breakdown. However, she can also wring sympathy and sorrow out of her audience with one misty look in her eye.  

Daniel Buckland as the devoted, if somewhat dim-witted husband, delivers an understated performance which seems to nicely balance de Kock’s extreme character.  Buckland’s character is flung between exasperation and adoration for his tempestuous wife and we really believe in his love for her.

The boy in the performance is represented by a puppet, which has been created by Craig Leo.  The puppet is expressive and simply looks alive; mostly due to the skilful and imaginative way he is handled by Emilie Starke and Kim Kerfoot.  The entire story is told with virtually no dialogue and only through clowning and miming.  The hour and fifteen minute production is a reminder of how powerful our body language is, and when the odd word is uttered we are startled by its oddity, as if words are unnecessary.

This particular performance was a Womb Tide sneak preview for a select audience and it was set in a cold and bright church hall in Observatory in the middle of the afternoon; South Africa was playing football that evening. We could hear vuvuzelas being blown outside.  The stage design was not yet complete, there were no special lighting effects, and James Webb’s musical direction came from a Ghettoblaster stuck in the back of the hall. Yet, none of this detracted one bit from the rollercoaster wave of emotion that this production created on the day.   I can only imagine the added emotional trauma when the lighting and sound has been set up in Grahamstown.   Last year the team’s Pictures of You was a sleeper hit at the National Arts Festival.  Id’ venture a guess that Womb Tide is going to make some serious waves in Grahamstown before moving onto the Market Theatre.  Don’t miss it.

  • The show starts at various times from 22 – 25 June. Tickets are R50 and may be booked through, or at the National Arts Festival box offices in Grahamstown. 

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