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Thursday, July 25, 2013


Performances of conviction and passion from rising stars of tomorrow. (Review by Keith Millar)

Gill Brunings and her entire cast and crew from Rising Star Performing Arts deserve to be congratulated on a job well done. Richard Conlon’s Hope Springs is a dark and complex play but they carry it off with flair and confidence.

Hope Springs is based on Tranquility Bay in Jamaica, which was a behavioural modification facility run by an American company for 11 to 18 year-old children. Parents who were no longer able to control the behaviour of their children sent them to this, or one of the company’s other facilities, in the belief that they would be transformed into model citizens.

The truth, however, is that they were placed in a draconian environment where every aspect of their lives was controlled and manipulated by those in authority. It was a torturous life of discipline and obedience where every action was strictly and harshly regulated. Attempts were even made to brainwash them and control their thoughts.

The favourite form of punishment was Observational Placement or OP where the children were forced to lay face-down on a bare tile floor with their hands behind their backs and without moving a muscle. Every hour they are allowed a ten minute break before having to resume the position. This punishment could go on for days or weeks and sometimes even months.

Tranquility Bay was closed down in 2004 after news of the way children were treated was leaked the press.

Playwright Richard Condon has added a student rebellion reminiscent of Animal Farm to this scenario to create a multifaceted and intense dramatic work.

Subject matter as serious and significant as this could be quite a daunting task to present but the young performers from Rising Star Performing Arts (RSPA) prove themselves equal to the task. With performances of conviction and passion they are able to create characters both convincing and genuine.

To single out individuals would be a disservice to the others so here is a list of all the performers: Amy Amstutz, Sitho Bandezi, Sinovuyo Bata, Michaela Hardstone, Jess Horseley, Juliette Jack, Keenan Labuschagne, Kristen Maise, Sarah McQuilliam, Casey Milledge, Wandisiwe Mzobe, Katie Opperman, Spokazi Poswa, Eden Rottchter, Precious Schmitt, Annabelle Slabbert, Marinel Taljaard and Chris Turner.

Gillian Brunings, the principal of Rising Star Performing Arts academy, also directed Hope Springs. Credit is due to her not only for developing such a promising crop of young performers, but also for her innovative direction which added so much to the production. I particularly liked the technique of using torches, in an otherwise blacked-out theatre, to spotlight the faces of the actors who were either giving testimony or narrative during the production. It is chilling and very effective.

While Tranquility Bay and several other institutions have closed down, what is disturbing is that the shadowy company which ran them, World Wide Association of Specialty Programmes and Schools – even that name is quite unsettling - may still, to this day, be operating in institutions in North and South America.

Hope Springs asks a lot of questions about family relationships, child abuse and behavioural problems. It is thought-provoking theatre. It is also an opportunity to see the future stars of our stages in action.

Hope Springs runs until Sunday (July 28) with shows daily at 19h00 except Sunday when the show is at 14h00. There is also an extra matinee performance on Saturday at 14h00. No under-10’s allowed. Tickets R80 booked through Computicket on 0861 915 8000 or at – Keith Millar