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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Afrikaans-language physical theatre masterpiece sets high standard for Musho 2009. (Review by Shika Budhoo.

The standard for Musho! 2009 has been set and it is incredibly high. I refer to Wraakengel, the Afrikaans-language physical theatre masterpiece that opened at the BAT Hall tonight. A good understanding of Afrikaans is necessary to catch all the nuances in Sjaka Septembir’s piece, but Floyed de Vaal’s performance is so on point that you are mesmerized despite the language barrier. I was fortunate enough to have an interpreter available, but unfortunately (for me!) he was so engrossed in the piece, my questions had to wait till afterwards.

Wraakengel – Angel of Vengeance, for us English-speakers – tells the tale of Barend Blydestroom’s investigation into his fiancĂ©e’s suicide. On the way to the scene of the tragedy – a little dorpie called Roodeplaats – his car breaks down. This introduces him to a number of locals. First up is Boerie, who gives him a lift into town. Then, at the local shop, he meets Ansie, a sweet, small-town girl. Here, the strangeness sets in. He places a chocolate on the counter, only to have it vanish. We now know that we’re in for a thrilling ride!

From Boerie, the local James Dean with a penchant for fast cars, to Juvrou Van Zyl, the ancient owner of the local B&B, de Vaal’s characterization is pitch-perfect. We are so enraptured that we forgive his regular stops to mop the sweat off his person and stage. Hey, we know Durban’s too hot for out-of-towners! He creates a world populated with oddball characters and drives this thriller impressively.

As the corpses start piling up, we literally see the blood and gore, forgetting that we are actually looking at a lone performer in a vest and pants on a stage, bare other than a musician sitting prompt side. This performance had us jumping in fright, but also laughing out loud at Septembir’s clever wordplay. This is where a strong understanding of Afrikaans helps in the enjoyment of the piece. When his car won’t start, the vocalized sound effect is a whining, “Gaan-n-n-n nie!, translating to, “No go!”, which elicited a hearty guffaw from my educated neighbour.

De Vaal’s strong physical performance is aided by Gertjie Besselsen’s unique live soundtrack. Besselsen supports de Vaal’s performance as a one-man orchestra, playing guitar, chimes, and even a wooden frog to provide music and sound effects. His entrance onto stage in a full tuxedo, complete with ruffled shirt, was reminiscent of a classical pianist taking his spotlight. This innovative presentation-style was a marvelous concept, with the live musical accompaniment enhancing the performance. Besselson is the perfect straight man to de Vaal’s animated physicality as his deadpan expression saw him slowly fade from view as de Vaal’s mimed world came to the fore.

The only downside to tonight’s performance, other than pitiful house, was the intrusion of extraneous sound from the BAT’s bar and lounge. This lack of sound-proofing threatened to distract, but Wraakengel had us gripped. This art-piece deserves a proper theatre and full houses. So, shift your paradigm and head over to the BAT Hall tomorrow afternoon to catch one of the best shows this reviewer has seen in ages. - Shika Budhoo