‘Autopsy’ does not hold up well to intellectual dissection

‘Autopsy’ does not hold up well to intellectual dissection

CAST: Faniswa Yisa, Jennie Reznek, Dann-Jacques Mouton and Mandisi Sindo
DIRECTOR: Mark Fleishman
VENUE: Magnet Theatre, Unit 1, The Old Match Factory, corner St Michaels and Lower Main Roads, Observatory

Magnet Theatre’s latest opus ‘Autopsy’, reminded me a lot of the movie ‘Chinatown’. This would usually be a good thing, as ‘Chinatown’ is one of the tautest crime films of all time and a personal favourite. Like that film, the play attempts to tell a complex personal story set against the background of an even more complex conspiracy that ultimately takes centre stage and threatens to envelop all the players.

The one thing that ‘Autopsy’ doesn’t have in common with Roman Polanski’s neo-noir classic is faultless execution. That film featured a screenplay by Robert Town that is regarded to this day as one of the greatest of all time. ‘Autopsy’ features recycled B-dialogue aplenty and a plot that I found almost impossible to follow at times amidst the over-stylization, broad physicality of the players and information overload of the multi-media backdrop. Even as I could appreciate the multi-faceted layers of the plot and the complexity of what Mark Fleishman was trying to communicate, and even though Jennie Reznek played the hell out of most of her characters and Faniswa Yiza, as always, was a winning presence, I found it very difficult to settle into the world of the play.
In the words of the press release, Yisa, “in high heels”, plays a forensic investigator called in to determine the mysterious death of a wealthy landowner. Piecing together the story she comes “face to face with her own and Africa’s past and challenging questions for our future”.

As you can probably deduce from the inverted commas I added above, ‘Autopsy’ has lofty thematic ambitions and these relate primarily to hot button topics like land ownership, the tension of modernity juxtaposed with tradition and the increasing role of corruption in modern day South Africa, not to mention (and excuse me paraphrasing the press release yet again) a “second wave of colonialism” in Africa.

Fleishman and co. though add very little to what we already know about these topics, nor do they flesh out their viewpoints enough to challenge one’s thinking. It all pretty much boils down to preaching to the already converted.
Yisa, who apparently insisted on the high heels after so many Magnet productions of being covered in mud, does look rather fetching in her almost fetishized “career woman” attire, but her character’s over pronounced urbanism and lack of dimensions meant I found it difficult investing in her. Yiza nonetheless tries her best to maintain focus with all of the frenetic activities going on around her.

There is a lot of playing going about, with cameras being manipulated, tables being mounted and miniature models being handled, but with the exception of the odd cartoonish character flourish here and there, mostly provided by Reznek, ‘Autopsy’ has quite a humourless core, despite considering itself satirical.
I have often found Magnet Theatre productions high on cerebral intent, much like a particularly dense theatrical essay laid out on stage, but difficult to really love. This play has done nothing to change that.
Nevertheless, it is one of those productions likely to split opinions and I would love to hear counterpoints to my arguments here, so if you have a strong opinion, drop me a line at peter@48hours.co.za.

* Bookings are through www.webtickets.co.za or on 021 448 3436; alternatively, send an email to  margie@magnettheatre.co.za. Visit  www.magnettheatre.co.za for more information.