national Arts Festival Banner

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


(Louise Saint-Claire, Bo Petersen & Michael Richard.
                                    NAF2014.CUEPIX Niamh Walsh-Vorster)

The combined experience, talents and comedy qualities of Michael Richard, Louise Saint-Clare and Bo Petersen make this production a must-see. (Review by Caroline Smart)
If you didn’t catch Pieter Toerien’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike when it appeared on the Main Programme of the 2014 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, you have until Sunday (August 10) to catch it at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Montecasino in Johannesburg or else head for Cape Town.
I saw it in Grahamstown and was fascinated by it. Written by Christopher Durang it won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play. The Toerien production is beautifully performed and designed but an element of the play bothered me. It seemed as if the second half was written in a different focus, time space or mood. This prompted me to catch the play again when I was in Johannesburg last week.
My initial response still holds true but the stellar trio that heads the cast have now moulded the two sections together. Under Bobby Heaney’s direction and in the skilful hands of Michael Richard, Louise Saint-Claire and Bo Petersen, the play flows on a much more even keel. What the second half does offer are two superbly presented monologues from Richard and Peterson.
The three main characters are brother and sister Vanya (Richard), Masha (Saint-Clare) and their adopted sister Sonia (Petersen). The names reflect the strong reference to Anton Chekov which runs throughout.
The play opens with Vanya and Sonia gazing across at the lake hoping to see the blue heron. There is a strong bond between them – although this can erupt into spectacular argument – which comes from having spent most of their adult life caring for their ailing parents. All this while, the glamorous and self-centred Masha has been carving a successful career in the movies.
A perfectly normal day is turned chaotically upside down by the arrival of Masha and her latest beau, Spike, an event heralded with much drama by their housekeeper Cassandra. Thrown into the mix is the winsome Nina who catches Spike’s eye.
Richard Gau makes the most of his role as a slightly dof wannabe actor with a beautiful body and Emilie Owen provides the right qualities of sweetness and astuteness as Nina. Kensiwe Tshabalala is hilarious as Cassandra who resorts to voodoo in desperation to save the farmhouse from being sold.
Jannie Swanepoel’s set is a masterpiece. It features the porch of a beautiful farm house situated in Bucks County in America. Greenery abounds with trees, pot plants and vines on trellises. A set of comfortable rattan furniture gives an informal lived-in feel and there is great attention to detail in stage props. Melissa van Eck’s costume co-ordination is effective with the Snow White costume a delight!
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino, Fourways in Johannesburg, until August 10. It then transfers to Cape Town where it will run at the Theatre on the Bay from August 13 to September 6. – Caroline Smart