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Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Review by Margaret von Klemperer of the production at the 2011 Witness Hilton Arts Festival in the Grindrod Bank Theatre. (Courtesy of The Witness)

Durban’s Neil Coppen is this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, and Abnormal Loads is the play he presented at the National Arts Festival as part of that award - and is abundant proof that it was well deserved: Abnormal Loads is a profound, complex piece of theatre that tells its story with humour and tenderness. It also tackles head on the issue of how contested history is in South Africa. An event may have happened in the past, but there can be no one truth about what took place: what you believe depends on where you stand and to what your prejudices or fears blind you.

The plot concerns a family in Northern Natal. The town of Bashford where they live in bears their name, and they have been proud of their heritage. They are now reduced to an ageing matriarch and her coloured grandson, Vincent (brought to excellent life by Allison Cassels and Mothusi Magano respectively), but skeletons rattle in their cupboards and ghosts trouble their dreams, particularly Vincent’s as he wrestles with his own complex past.

History divides the Bashford descendants from the Joubert family on the other side of the river – their divergent views a microcosm of South African history. And in the present, a new love story unfolds between Vincent and Katrien Joubert, reopening old wounds and causing new problems.

As he has done in the past with work like Tin Bucket Drum and Tree Boy, Coppen uses a lot of theatre business – unusual props and frequent scene changes - in telling his story, but here they are slicker and much less intrusive than I have found them in the past, playing their part in making a profound and moving theatrical experience. - Margaret von Klemperer