Posts Tagged ‘astrid stark’

Mary and the Conqueror.

First published in the Sunday Independent in October 2011


Imagine spending the greater part of your life writing and obsessing about a long-dead historical figure and then getting the fantastical opportunity to have a discourse with him. This is the basic premise of Juliet Jenkin’s new play which sees Mary Renault, best known for writing historical novels set in Ancient Greece, meet up with the protagonist of many of her works, Alexander the Great.

In the play both have shed their mortal coils, however Mary, played by Diane Wilson, seems to still be chilling out in Limbo, drinking beer, when she meets the object of her life-long fascination, Alexander, performed by Armand Aucamp. The story is a mixture of Mary Renault’s factual life and Juliet Jenkin’s imagination of the possible conversations to be had between the two at such a meeting.

Thrown in the mix is the same sex relationship between Mary and her lover, played by Adrienne Pearce, being played off against that of Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship. Although Alexander’s homosexuality has often been insinuated at, it is unconfirmed in ancient texts. The writer is engaging us with the hypothetical possibility of his homosexuality. The play is not intended to be factual but rather imaginary.  Mary lived in Camp’s Bay and her novels during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s became iconic works, especially for homosexuals, dealing as they did, with love and war, their sexuality, and heroism during key periods in the history of Ancient Greece.

The premise sounds interesting and one can only imagine the questions that will be asked and the tales of high drama, love, lust and betrayal that would fly between the one of the world’s finest warriors and an iconic writer. However, this production ended up leaving me rather disappointed. The dialogue, rather than sparkle and crackle, fizzles out and seems lacking in tension and drama. 

Diane Wilson, last seen in her award-winning act of Careful, delivers her usual studied and consummate performance.  However, her given dialogue does not convince me that her character, Renault, has studied Alexander for decades. The passion and excitement of such an imagined meeting is just not there.

Adrienne Pearce playing the part of Renault’s long-term and doting lover injects some life into the play with an excellent performance.  The relationship between the two women comes across as tender and very real as both actresses delicately dance around and with each other.  Pierce’s character suffers from bouts of severe depression and she delivers a very believable performance of a woman suffering the mental anguish of dragging herself out of the darkness for the sake of her own sanity and the love of her life.

Armand Aucamp’s portrayal of one of the world’s most successful commanders of all time – by the age of thirty Alexander had created of one of the largest empires in ancient history – feels somewhat whimsical and lacking in emotional depth.  He struts about the stage in a very tiny pair of white hot pants, which distracts from the dialogue and action on stage. I am not at all convinced that Aucamp’s Alexander can ride his steed into battle, let alone conquer entire countries. His dialogue is lacking in depth and it does not do a great job of painting a vivid or believable character of such a great man.

Francis Chouler in the role of Hephaistion – Alexander’s lover – delivers moments of very sincere acting. He seems to be fully immersed in his role and he is clearly enjoying all the action on stage. There is also a lovely gentle and very tangible good energy which passes between Chouler and Aucamp, which may be further explored. Unfortunately their European accents were not steady throughout the performance and at times it sounded quite fake and even a bit camp.

Alfred Rietmann’s stage design recreates an otherworldly afterlife, or peculiar place of limbo, were Alexander and Renault have most their discussions. Long blue and white drapes, tall columns, and soft strategic lighting add a slightly surreal and fantastical tone to the performance.

Mary and the Conqueror is a commissioned play for the 7th Artscape Spring Drama Season’s and is directed by Roy Sargeant.  The other plays in this year’s Spring Drama Season are The Beneficiary by Sinethemba Twani (20 October to 5 November);  Hol by Nicola Hanekom (10 November to 2 December);  Seashells by Rafiek Mammon (15 November to 3 December) and a showcase performance of Other People’s Lives by Amy Jephta on 16 and 17 December.

The play runs until 15 October at 20:15, with matinee performances at 14:30 on Saturday 8 and 15 October. Tickets at R60.00 and R80.00 and can be booked at Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat, 021-471-7695.

First Published in The Cape Times – September 2010

 Starring:  Jennifer Steyn.  Directed by Nicky Rebelo. Costume and set design by Ruy Filipe.

 at The Baxter until 9 October   ASTRID STARK reviews. The battle of the sexes.

 The tragedy of a woman who has been reduced from ‘flower of the mountain’ to a long suffering wife who seeks earthly pleasures in the arms of a lover is but one of many themes threading its way through this play taken from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Molly Bloom is a one-woman play adapted from the 18thchapter of Ulysses.  The chapter, often referred to as Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy, originally consists of eight sentences with only two punctuation marks throughout. If it were to be performed uncut it would run for over four hours. Thankfully, the piece has been edited down to about an hour and forty minutes’ ‘stream of consciousness’ monologue. Thankfully, not because the text is dull, but rather because of its density and the wealth of complex issues contained within its pages.     

Jennifer Steyn as Molly Bloom, Photo by Nicky Rebelo

Jennifer Steyn as Molly Bloom, Photo by Nicky Rebelo

The play is set in Dublin and opens with Molly lying in bed next to her husband Leopold who has returned from a day of wine, brothels and late night cafes.  It is the same bed in which she entertains her lover, Blazes Boyle, and her husband knows this.  However, Leopold finds it all amusing that she had tricked him so cleverly and proceeds to fall into a deep sleep or drunken stupor. Molly muses about her life as a married woman, her husband’s infidelities, her unfulfilled singing career, and the many inequalities between men and women.     

Jennifer Steyn has beautifully crafted Molly Bloom’s Irish accent and deftly manages the intense text which schizophrenically flicks between moods of revenge and hatred to exultation and love.  Within Molly rages all the rapture and agony of being a woman.  She wistfully reflects upon her many admirers and compares her husband favourably to her lover before letting loose a stream of angry reflections of Leopold’s inadequacies and betrayals. In one instance Molly reflects upon the beauty of the female form and how, by comparison the male genitalia reminds her of a hatrack.  Then she is off on a tangent reflecting on another possible suitor whose pleasing physical attributes has her pondering on how she will seduce him.  At times she comes across as tempestuous, hoary and spiteful before turning the spotlight on the side of her that is vulnerable, childlike, romantic and hopeful.  Molly is a kaleidoscope of personalities and moods rolled into one less than perfect female form.

When Ulysses was first published it was immediately banned in the United States and Britain and the ban was only lifted in 1950.  The play carries an 18-year age restriction due to its graphic sexual references.  Molly reflects on the joys of the flesh and in particular the pleasure of her thighs. There is a chamber pot scene during which she derives a juvenile pleasure in being loud and gassy while her husband sleeps which is perhaps Molly’s attempt to take her power back.

During Molly’s monologue the sad truths of her marriage to Leopold are revealed.  The couple who once were so desperately in love have degraded their relationship by faithlessness and abuse.  Leopold wants her to pose nude for extra money and when she is pregnant he suggests she could get an extra pound a week as a wet nurse. 

Molly reflects on the strength of women and muses about a world filled with female matriarchs.   The text is quite dark and sad. However, the play ends with a lift as Molly reflects on when Leopold proposed to her 16-years prior.  Molly remembers, “After that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him.”

Nicky Rebelo, Jennifer Steyn’s husband, cautiously directs Steyn through the dense text.  Rebelo is also an actor and he has performed at the Baxter in Steven Berkoff’s West, Chris Charles’s Walking Wounded, Paul Slabolepszy’s Making Like America and David Mamet’s American Buffalo. Steyn, a Fleur du Cap Best Actress winner, last performed at the Baxter in Mike van Graan’s Green Man Flashing, for which she also received a nomination in the same category.

Show starts at 20h15.  Ticket prices range from R70 for the Baxter Monday special offer, which includes a light meal and show, to R130 at weekends.  Booking is through Computicket on 083 915 8000, online at or at any Shoprite Checkers outlet countrywide. For discounted block, corporate or school bookings, charities or fundraisers contact Sharon on 021 680 3962, email or Carmen on 021 680 3993, email


First published in The Cape Times: 22 September 2010


Starring:  Sonia Esgueira.  Directed by Heinrich Reisenhofer. at The Theatre on the Bay  until 2 October.   ASTRID STARK reviews

If you think you’re family is uniquely screwed up, and an embarrassment to be seen with in public, you really should meet the Ferreiras.

This family, originally from Madeira, has more dirty secrets, filthy habits, and body hair than the Italian Government.  Mom and dad Ferreira have moved back to Madeira -where nothing happens in large measures – leaving their daughter Paula, and her white trash brother Roy, in charge of their corner shop and granny Maria.  Sparks fly between the Portuguese brother and sister when the unwedded, part-time catholic, Paula finds out she’s pregnant.  Mom and dad returns after they hear via the Porra grapevine of a robbery at the shop and the sparks explode into fireworks when the conservative mom finds out about the baby.  

In Porralicious – The Revenge! Sonia Esgueira returns with the third instalment of her one-woman show about all things Portuguese. She has polished up her characters to a glossy super realistic sheen, and she is not holding back.  The tiny Esgueira plays the rough and tumble Roy with utter conviction. Before your eyes the petite woman is transformed into a hairy, foul-mouthed, aggressive brute. You can almost smell the testosterone mixed with stale sweat and cheap deodorant emanating from this character. He is ugly and rude and we’ve all met someone like him.  Roy is simple minded in his view of the world, brutally honest, and yet somehow he slowly wiggles his way into our hearts as the performance progresses.  Esgueira’s impersonations of the stereotypical Portuguese family are spot on and hilarious. She grabs her crotch and lifts her fist aggressively and before our eyes she’s transformed into a man.   Esgueira drapes a shawl over her shoulder and she becomes the fragile and furious granny Maria who stands wailing at the gate, suitcase in hand, ready to return to Madeira.  The 30-year old Paula has taken 5 pregnancy tests and she is mortified as each one comes out positive.   She lives in holy fear of her quick-tempered mother and seeks redemption within the safety of the confession box with hilarious results as she doesn’t really “get” the whole confession business.  Granny Maria digs through Paula’s drawers, steals a pair of thongs, and thinks the pregnancy test is a thermometer which she proceeds to dip into various orifices.

Apart from the cunning display of her craft the show is also a very entertaining and moving story about life, love , marriage, the catholic church and what it means to be Portuguese in South Africa, or anywhere in the world for that matter.  Esgueira fills the stage with her characters and when the final scene draws to a close we feel as if we have been hanging out with the Ferreira family and we feel a bit sad to say goodbye.

Heinrich Reisenhofer’s direction is fast-paced and at times startling.  It is easy to see why he won four Fleur du Cap and FNB theatre awards for his production of Suip! Reisenhofer also produced, directed and co-wrote the comedy, Joe Barber, which has been running in South Africa for ten years.  Together Reisenhofer and Esqueire have created a very funny and very rewarding performance.

  • The show runs from Tuesday to Saturday 20h00.   Tickets are from R90 to R125.  Bookings may be made with Computicket or at the Theatre Box Office on 021 438 3300

by Astrid Stark