Fugard and Honeyman get it wrong

Fugard and Honeyman get it wrong

SHOW: The Blue Iris

Not to come off all Seagal or Blade (the politician, not the vampire hunter), it is sometimes the job of the critic to be tougher than the average theatregoer. While I was watching ‘The Blue Iris’ I got the feeling that the people around me were really being moved by what they were seeing; like they were witnessing a small miracle unfolding before them. In a way I felt jealous. To have that purity of experience as an audience member… Alas, much like a Hitchcock ending, us critics sometimes have to be the cockroach at the end of the proverbial theatregoing sundae.

I certainly saw glimpses of what the audience got onto their feet to applaud at the end, but I couldn’t for the life of me shake what a deeply flawed staging of a flawed, if heartfelt play ‘The Blue Iris’ is. I recently dug into Honeyman for her unbalanced direction of ‘Doodsnikke’ and was desperate to love ‘The Blue Iris’. Such has been Honeyman’s consistency over the last few years that she has always managed to correct whatever little blip she suffers almost instantaneously. This time around that is not the case.

I felt the direction peculiarly indecisive here. The actors, for instance, couldn’t find the right balance between addressing each other and the audience. This uncertainty resulted in the performers exuding a palpable nervousness for much of the show that never quite dissipated. If anything, it escalated with the introduction of Claire Berlein’s character late in the play. Granted, it was opening night and the actors will only grow into their parts, but you’d expect such fundamental issues to have been resolved for an opening night.

Honeyman usually gives vibrant life to words like almost no other local director, but she isn’t helped here by one of Fugard’s clunkier texts. Unnecessary expository passages in which the actors externalise almost all of their characters’ inner thoughts and motivations are commonplace in our dreadful local soaps, but in a Fugard play it verges on the criminal.

It undermines the mounting emotional tension that Fugard so obviously strives for in the play. I love it when Fugard shoots straighter from the heart. His similarly direct ‘The Train Driver’, despite not garnering the love of other critics in the city at the time, is one of my favourite plays of the last few years. The emotional profundity in that play was achieved in a wholly organic matter; ‘The Train Driver’ strains, huffs and puffs and all but bludgeons one in its pursuit of the same objective.

Despite the creative challenges the cast somehow still endears one to them with their earnest application. They may not succeed in making Fugard’s constrained prose fall naturally on the ear, but the professional joy they radiate in getting to speak the words of a master, albeit one whose Midas touch has momentarily escaped him, is still very much palpable and infectious.

* Book at Computicket.

DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman
CAST: Graham Weir, Lee-Ann Van Rooi and Claire Berlein
VENUE: Fugard Theatre Studio until July 28.
REVIEW: Peter Tromp