Theatre review:Kardiavāle

Posted: June 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome to the freak show, first published in Cape Times- by Astrid Stark

The Conspiracy of Clown theatre troupe’s latest creation has spawned, just in time for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.  Under Emilie Starke’s direction, the theatre group which has brought us such gems as the award-winning Pictures of You, Gumbo, and Womb Tide, has created a macabre cabaret carnival which dips heartily into the dark side of the human psyche.  

Kardiavāle is the story of an orphan, born with her heart on the outside, and a heartless opportunist who exploits her obvious vulnerability to benefit his ailing freak show.  Rob Murray is Oskar, an aging ringleader of a run-down carnival, who is desperately hanging on to his washed-up side show, Oskar’s Oddities, and the last fragments of his own sanity.  In wanders the naïve and romantic Onni, Liezl de Kock, who literally wears her heart on her sleeve.  What follows is a manic misadventure into a dark and twisted world of abuse, lies, loss of innocence and greed. Liezl and Rob tell Onni and Oskar’s story through dark clowning, imagery and singing.

Rob opens Oskar’s Oddities by introducing one of Green Point’s infamous drag queens, Mary Scary. Mary looks as if she has just crawled out of a parking lot after a weekend of partying at a Gothic club for cross-dressers. Her wig, quite possibly freshly scalped from an intoxicated reveler, clings to the side of her head like a terrified skunk.  She has squeezed her unashamedly male frame into a petite white dress, which has popped open across her broad back, and is crudely held together by ribbons. Her odour as she wafts through the audience is a potent mixture of discount deodorant, hairspray, cheap make-up and testosterone. She is a complete freak and proud of it and therefore, by default, perfect as the opening act.   


Photo by Boniswa Isaacs. Liezl de Kock as Onni.

De Kock as the sweet Onni is wonderful to watch. Her control over her body, and her mastery of physical theatre and clowning is superb.  With a slight lift of a hand and nod of the head she transforms her body and spirit into rapidly changing scene after scene in a manic tour d’force.  With only her face visible she will slightly furrow her brow, lightly droop her mouth, and we are immersed in her world of sadness. The deceptively simple make-up cleverly adds to the overall effect.  She reminds me of the oddly entertaining actress, Helen Bonham Carter. Both actresses clearly have a fetish for bizarre and off-beat characters.

It’s great to see Rob Murray back on stage again. He has a mesmerising presence.   Murray gives a wicked performance as the corrupt ringleader who is dipping in and out of sanity.  It is like watching a boy playing hopscotch on a train track. You can hear the whistle blowing and you know his time is running out. And he knows it too.

Live music accompanies the tragedy that is playing itself out on stage.  The piano, violin and drums are all used to great effect in creating created a sad and sordid dying carnival atmosphere.

The feeling is one of complete, dirty voyeurism. We are invited to a glimpse behind the scenes of the machinations of a freak show.  This effect is somewhat spoilt when the actors engage with the audience through puns and jokes. This reality check snaps us out of that wonderfully sublime underworld which they inhabit and it takes a while to again become wholly submerged in their sordid story.

The lyrics of the songs are wonderfully witty and sardonic, but both actors will benefit from voice coaching.  The extreme physicality of Kardiavāle alone seems challenging. When the actors attempted an array of songs, it feels as if they have simply taken on too much.

The overall production can do with a little nip and tuck, perhaps leaving out the mention of Aids and promiscuity which don’t quite seem to fit into Kardiavāle’s themes of longing for love, greed and abuse. It becomes a little confusing.

The Conspiracy of Clowns will certainly keep tweaking and polishing until Kardiāvale shines as brightly as the rest of the brilliant productions.

Kardiavāle will run on 5 June at the Intimate theatre as the finale of their very short run in Cape Town before heading for Grahamstown from 7-9 June 2011.  Mary Scary will stay behind in Cape Town to freak out diners at Beefcakes Burger Bar in Green Point with her nightly drag show.

 *Tickets are R50 and can be booked at Kardiavāle, by the Conspiracy of Clowns. Directed by Emilie Starke. Set, costume and prop design by Jayne Batzofin. Musical composition by Brydon Bolton and Gustavo Fasan. Lyrics by Jayne Batzofin.  Lighting design by Rob Murray. Starring Liezl de Kock, Rob Murray, and live musicians Shaun Acker and Natalie Mason. With a special guest appearance by Mary Scary. At The Intimate Theatre on 5 June, at 21h00. ASTRID STARK reviews


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