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Sunday, July 9, 2017


(Jacques Bessenger, Elize Cawood, Kopano Maroga, Mpume Mthombeni
& Marvin-Lee Beukes)

This is a very fine production offering much food for thought. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Multi-award winning writer, actor and director Neil Coppen’s latest production Newfoundland (Buiteland) appeared on this year’s National Arts Festival main programme. It was presented by the NAF and NATI/Feesteforum in association with Kunste Onbeperk.

Newfoundland was originally developed in conjunction with the Royal Court, the UK’s premiere playwriting institute. Coppen was invited to London for a staged reading of his work at the Theatre as part of the New Plays from South Africa after 20 Years of Democracy Programme. The play was originally titled differently but pressed by a deadline to confirm the title, he thought of choosing Newfoundland because of its rugged nature as opposed to the lush vegetation of KwaZulu-Natal and the fact that it could be considered a “new found land”.

The story deals with an Afrikaans anaesthetist (Jacques) based in a Pietermaritzburg community hospital who is reliant on drugs to handle the demons in his head. He looks at the process of anaesthetic from an academic viewpoint. He meets a choreographer and student at UKZN (Sizwe) through a dating app and this develops into a strong relationship between the two men. Both are under pressure from their mothers to return to their cultural faiths but they are fighting to move forward and the relationship gives them the freedom they are searching for. The gradual build of their friendship and Jacques’ unbending towards Sizwe is sensitively and skilfully handled.

Excellent performances come from Jacques Bessenger as Jacques and Kopano Maroga as Sizwe. Legendary actress Elize Cawood brought her commanding presence to the role of Jacques’ mother who is unaware that he is gay. Marvin-Lee Beukes gains sympathy in the part of Mitchell who gets Jacques’ drugs for him on the quiet.

Good to see a Durban presence in actress Mpume Mthombeni who plays Sizwe’s mother with strong emotion and dancer/choreographer Ntombi Gasa who is an impressive Mercy and the ancestor. Gasa and Maroga jointly choreographed the effective movement sections, particularly an extremely well-handled sex scene.

There are flashbacks to experiences and nightmares in Jacques’ life. I found it quite difficult to follow the scene placements and time-frames but unfortunately I am not very conversant in isiZulu or Afrikaans and this may be the reason.

Coppen’s writing is always highly proficient and his scripting of the way the respective cultures influence the two main characters is impressive .This is a very fine production offering much food for thought. – Caroline Smart