SHOW: I Turned Away And She Was Gone
Director: Mark Fleishman
Cast: Jennie Reznek
VENUE: Magnet Theatre until March 14
REVIEW: Peter Tromp
Over the years, Magnet Theatre has shown an uncanny ability to move with the times and stay relevant artistically. The company turned 25 two years ago (and celebrated the occasion with a glorious restaging of perhaps their seminal work, ‘Voices Made Night’) and that level of longevity is truly remarkable – and something increasingly rare in the theatrical sphere.
I have said in the past that I sometimes find the company’s productions hard to fall in love with, but for every ‘The Fire Raisers’ or ‘Autopsy’ – productions I just couldn’t get on board with, despite their innovativeness – there’s usually a ‘Kragbox’, or the aforementioned ‘Voices Made Night’: productions I adore and look back on with unreserved fondness. The former two productions are examples of the concept probably having played out better in the head of director Mark Fleishman.
I found those shows a little alienating and overly cerebral – more redolent of post grad submissions than something designed to successfully connect with general audiences, even as they dealt with subject matter that was quintessentially South African. The latter two productions got the balance of heart and the cerebral just right, and to massively winning effect.
Add ‘I Turned Away And She Was Gone’ to the latter pile. Magnet as a company has always had a penchant for intermixing the grandiose with the everyday. They’ve been particularly successful in modulating classic texts so they feel relevant to the here and now. ‘I Turned…’ is no exception, and provides an audience friendly, although hardly dumbed down version of the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone as the basis for a truly enveloping story of the three main stages in the lives of women.
So deftly does Jennie Reznek negotiate the story, and so engrossingly has it been staged by Fleishman, that you need almost no prior knowledge of the original story.
It is deceptively simple to follow, although you’ll spend days unpacking the numerous layers in your mind.
As a rousing and deeply touching theatregoing experience, ‘I Turned…’ might be my favourite one woman show since ‘My Name Is Rachel Corrie’, which played at the Baxter in 2013. The productions have little in common in terms of subject matter, but they share that rare ability to let one into the heads of their female protagonists.
Reznek hasn’t commanded a stage solo for 20 years, but I would say that her return to the one person format has been worth the wait. The actress has the deftest touch, radiating charm for every second as she works the audience. The seating allows one to see the reactions of one’s fellow audience members, and to say that people were enchanted would be somewhat of an understatement. That’s not to say that ‘I turned…’ doesn’t deal with some serious subject matter. It pulls few punches, but does so in delicate gradations.
Water is a constant element in the show, and its inferred fluidity extends both to the way Reznek flits in and out of character, or transforms from one character to the next, as well as how in life it is oftentimes better to go with the flow than to have a structured way of approximating things.
This is a show – epic in scope, but intimate in execution – that will have you thinking about the larger trajectories of your own life. It is vital stuff.
* Book at Computicket.