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Wednesday, September 24, 2014


(Andrew Buckland)

(Review from the artSMart team covering the 2014 Witness Hilton Arts Festival which ran at Hilton College from September 19 to 21)

Beautiful piece filled with humour, poignancy and energy. (Review by Caroline Smart)

I approached Tobacco, and the Harmful Effects Thereof with a sense of excitement, having missed its premiere in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival. This is a collaboration between two major luminaries in the South African performing arts - Andrew Buckland and Sylvaine Strike - both Standard Bank Young Artist Award winners and major entities in their own rights.

The simple set consists of two tall stands, one of which carries an old gramophone with a shining horn. Centrestage is what looks like half a massive tree trunk, smoothed and polished, standing upright to serve as a podium. However, this cleverly-made “podium” can turn into a hidey-hole, a boat or a swing but we only get to see this later.

I was not disappointed in my expectations – the merging of these two impressive talents has created the clever, highly amusing yet often poignant story of Ivan of the twitching left eye who appears very much under his wife’s thumb. She calls him “Scarecrow” and she is the principal of the school in which he works in a variety of capacities including Housekeeping. We pick up the story at the point where she has instructed him to lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco - even though he’s not an academic.

While Ivan has a fascination for words, his lecture regularly wanders off the point as we hear about his life and pick up rebellious feelings about his domineering wife’s control mixed with his deep-set love for her. After all, they must have some common ground as they have produced a vast number of children!

Longing for release, Ivan is full of conflict. A braveheart soul screaming to get out, he longs to be an American Indian. The number 13 seems to follow his life’s path. For instance, he has 13 sons – as well as 7 daughters ... for now, that is!

The character of his wife is played by Toni Morkel (good to see her back on a KZN stage) who is usually seen in the background when he reminisces. Although the wife has no lines, Morkel instils in her a dominant and forceful character, yet one who readily joins him in his dreams.

Strike’s delicate touch for nuances and unspoken responses works well with Buckland’s movement skills. It’s a beautiful piece filled with humour, poignancy and energy. – Caroline Smart